Molecular biologist Hans Laufer, of the University of Connecticut, has discovered that waterborne chemicals leached from plastics and detergents seem to contribute to “shell disease,” which has caused huge dieoffs among lobsters of Long Island Sound during the past ten years. According to University of Connecticut, after three years and $3 million invested in a research initiative, Laufer found that chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) are interfering with growth hormones in young lobsters, slowing their molting patterns and changing their development, which then leads to deformations, susceptibility to disease, and for many, death. This seems to explain a huge lobster dieoff that began in the late 1990s, bringing lobster catches to about 1/6 of their 1998 levels.
Other researchers reporting for the on-line, open access journal Scientific Reports, published by Nature, state “The widespread distribution of microplastics in aquatic bodies has subsequently contaminated a diverse range of aquatic biota, including those sold for human consumption such as lobsters, oysters, shrimp, clams and mussels. The increase in plastics disposal coupled with their continuous fragmentation is expected to significantly increase microplastic concentrations over time. As such, it will become increasingly important to regularly assess microplastic loads in seafood”.
Physical damage to organisms ingesting plastic has been known and reported for many species. It is less understood that if the organisms survive the ingestion of plastics, how the particles themselves introduce hazardous chemicals into their bodies. Several studies examined the link between plastic in seabirds’ stomachs and the concentrations of POPs (i.e., PCBs) in their tissues. The evidence of the link was significant. However, the natural food web of what-eats-what in marine environments, makes it hard to determine if the POPs are coming from higher or lower on the food chain, or both.
Until next time,