News Trawl 16 – Time for a Sea Change in Ocean Pollution

News Wave 16 - ocean pollution - Photo credit: pedrosimoes7 via Visualhunt / CC BY
Photo credit: pedrosimoes7 via Visualhunt / CC BY

The thought of ocean pollution and toxins in sea fish is an alarming one.

It’s an inescapable biological fact that our bodies require the omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood. They are responsible for brain structure and good mental health, and play an important part in averting life-threatening physical diseases. They can even shield our lungs from the effects of pollution.

The problem lurking in the omega-3 supplies comes from polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. These are one of a group of chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and they break down extremely slowly.

Concerns have been raise that some omega-3 supplements contain high levels of PCBs, even though the chemicals were banned worldwide in 2001. The fact that they are still causing problems – and headlines – is an indication of their persistence in the environment.

“Large fish are now mostly the source of POP contamination for humans,” said San Diego State University nutrition professor Mee Young Hong, leader of a new study on the problem. Read his full conclusions here.

Plastic not-so-Fantastic

A more visible source of sea pollution, and a blight that threatens entire ecosystems, is plastic. From clogging up island beaches to finding its way into the plankton digestive system (and hence up the food chain all the way to humans), plastic is a gaudy symbol of modern waste and apathy.

Not everyone is just ignoring or passively worrying about it, though – some are taking action. It may be tackling the effects rather than the underlying cause, but plastic-trawling devices such as the aquatic skimmer, Seabin and the Baltimore trash wheel are certainly an optimistic hands-on approach to the immediate problem. Let’s press for more money and ingenuity aimed in this direction – and at the source, not just the tragic and disfiguring results.

As Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia says: “Imagine you go into bathroom and see that your bathtub is overflowing with water. Is your first instinct to mop up the water or turn off tap? We need to turn off tap. Cleanup efforts are not changing behaviors, they’re telling people they can keep doing what they’re doing and someone else will clean up their mess.”

Seabed Mining – or environmental vandalism?

The International Seabed Authority, or ISA, regulates the vast expanse of sea floor that lies outside nations’ jurisdiction, encompassing nearly 50 percent of the Earth. This Authority, represented by about 30 individuals, is about to decide if and how the ocean floor should be mined for minerals.

An anxious lobby of environmentalists is keen to hear from the Authority exactly what the environmental consequences are, as the meeting is very much “behind closed doors”.

The subject is covered in depth in a News Deeply article, Seabed Mining: The 30 People Who Could Decide the Fate of the Deep Ocean.

Sea Aquaculture – new venture, same problems?

Photo credit: eutrophication&hypoxia via Visualhunt / CC BY
Photo credit: eutrophication&hypoxia via Visualhunt / CC BY

Aquaculture is a system beset with problems, so it’s with a certain trepidation that we listen to the latest innovation – a system called… aquaculture.

So what’s different this time round? “Every coastal country on Earth could meet its own domestic seafood needs through aquaculture using just a small fraction of ocean territory”, claims a new study in Nature Ecology and Evolution, seeking to demonstrate the oceans’ potential to support aquaculture. The story was reported in Futurity.

“There are only a couple of countries that are producing the vast majority of what’s being produced right now in the oceans,” says research leader Rebecca Gentry says. “We show that aquaculture could actually be spread a lot more across the world, and every coastal country has this opportunity.”

The case is indeed compelling. But development of the industry will have to make sure it isn’t just repeating the problems of existing aquaculture (poor feed, lice, pollution, etc). It’s not a huge leap from these proposals to the sea-farming ideas espoused by Professor Michael Crawford, one of the world’s leading omega-3 experts, and an advisor during Japan’s implementation of marine agriculture.

“Aquaculture requires feeding pellets to fish in cages”, says Crawford, “whereas marine agriculture uses sunlight as the energy source and the elemental wealth of the sea water, with no artificial input. Fish reared on land-derived feed will lose out, as trace elements are severely diminished in soils in many parts of the world. Simply adding them is not enough. They are only properly bioavailable when ingested in their natural form.”

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