Mussel reefs increase the risk of exposure and consumption of microplastics. I study

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Elia Tabuenca García
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New research has shown that blue mussels clustering together on reefs increase the risk of exposure to microplastics

New research suggests that blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) are most at risk for microplastic contamination due to the way they aggregate in the marine environment. A situation which then inevitably affects those who consume them since these mussels are marketed and subject to intensive aquaculture.

In the first study of its kind, scientists from the University of Plymouth performed a series of experiments to evaluate how the reefs formed by the mussels are exposed to the tiny particles of microplastic that, as we know, are now invading our seas.

For the research, the mussels were placed in controlled aggregations in a water channel and exposed to different wave speeds. The quantities of microplastics added to the water allowed the team to also assess the risk of ingesting particles in different environmental scenarios.

Scientists thus discovered that when the mussels were clustered together forming barriers, as occurs in nature, the formation slowed the sea water flowing over them, increased turbulence and caused a triple increase in the amount of plastic ingested by mussels.

As the researchers wrote in Environmental Research Letters, the study suggests that the arrangement and surface roughness of the natural structures of the cliffs on which the mussels "cling" create conditions that make them natural sinks for plastics and other forms of human pollution.

They also believe that species such as the blue mussel, important for human consumption but particularly susceptible to microplastic pollution, may be useful indicators of the problem and its potentially harmful biological impacts.

Dr Antony Knights, associate professor of marine ecology and senior author of the study, said:

“Species such as the blue mussel are commercially valuable as seafood but also important from an environmental point of view. They form natural barriers within marine and coastal environments that increase biodiversity to an extent that they are commonly protected by conservation actions. If they are particularly sensitive to microplastic pollution, there are many potential ripple effects that we need to be aware of. "

And then he added:

“We often try to protect the species that form the barrier based on who they are. However, we are not aware of any research that has shown that the physical structure of the reef itself (…) could also inadvertently increase their exposure to pollutants such as microplastics. (…) This study offers the first evidence that cliff formation is a double-edged sword for individuals ”.

Fonte di riferimento: University of Plymouth / Environmental Research Letters

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