Plastic is one of the most destructive thing on earth. Our ocean nowadays is so full of plastic waste it is killing our marine creatures. Not only by direct contact, such like being eaten wholly, but also by dispersing into small particles called microplastic.
Microplastic is the most dangerous form of plastic, because it is so small that it can enter living creature’s body unnoticed. The size of microplastic indeed varies, from as small as 10 nanometers to as ‘big’ as 5 millimeters.
In such size, the particle can even freely enter our bloodstream through digestion, let alone bigger marine animals such as dugongs, orcas, lion jellyfish, and whales. And indeed those bigger marine animals are the ones with higher risk of microplastic contamination.
However, this small mollusk called sea scallop is special. Although the size of this creature is not that big, but researchers found out that sea scallop is extremely prone to microplastic contamination. How can? In this article we are going to talk about this delicious animal.
Try to look around you and count everything you can see that’s made of or containing plastic. This is the era of plastic and we are living in the world of plastic. Maybe, we can say that basically we are living together with plastic.
Plastic can be found everywhere in your house, cars, clothes, gadgets, even in your food and eventually your body. Even though you have been living 100% plastic-free, there is still a chance that you are living with plastic that you don’t realize.
We belong to large animals thus we are more prone to plastic contamination. Researchers have found evidences in which plastic can be found in human feces too, meaning that microplastic contamination in human body is not a surprising thing anymore.
We need to start realizing and accept the fact that plastic can easily enter our body by any means, including mosquito bites and plastic contamination in drinking water. Eating some kinds of seafood is also highly associated with microplastic contamination in human body.
However, not all kind seafood is dangerous to consume, only some species of marine creatures absorb microplastic easier than the rest of them. For example, scallops are able to suck up and disperse plastic particles throughout their bodies in amazing speed, compared to other marine creatures.
A group of researchers led by University of Plymouth in southeast England, together with some scientists in Scotland and Canada, conducted a study to find out how scallops respond to microplastic particles in the water.
“Understanding the dynamics of nanoparticle uptake and release, as well as their distribution in body tissues, is essential if we are to understand any potential effects on organisms,” Richard Thompson, head of the University of Plymouth’s international marine research center said to National Geographic.
They tried to ‘create’ labelled microplastic particles and mix it with sea water. In that water, they put living scallops too. The result was amazing, since the scallops are unaware about the changes in their environment.
Those scallops just suck up the contaminated water just like it was normal sea water without contamination. The mollusk showed that they are actually unaware about the presence of microplastic in the water they are living in.
Those scallops not only suck up the smaller and ‘nearly invisible’ microplastic particles, but also bigger ones. The smaller particles, measuring about 24 nanometers in size, build up in scallops’ bodies faster than the bigger ones.
Get In And Disperse
To clean the scallops’ body, researchers then moved them to clean sea water. However, it took them 14 days to finally clean up their bodies from microplastic particles. The thing is, those researchers didn’t put too many microplastic particles. They only tried to imitate actual conditions of microplastic contamination in shores where scallops usually live.
“We only exposed the scallops to the nanoparticles for a few hours, and despite them being transferred to clean conditions, traces were still present several weeks later,” says Richard Thompson, an environmental toxicologist at Heriot-Watt University and one of the study’s authors.
Scallops is favored by many, which means that many of us should have consumed microplastic particles. According to latest study, scallops are capable of ingesting billions of microplastic particles in just six hours after exposure.
The problem is, the microplastic ingested by scallops are distributed to their whole body. It will be dispersed to their kidney, gill, muscle, and other organs. It means that we cannot avoid consuming microplastic when we eat scallops from contaminated area.
The only areas not affected might be their shells, that definitely are not favored for human consumption. But it indicates that small microplastic might be able to cross membranes to get to the other side. “The presence of NP (nanoplastic) in muscle tissue perhaps indicates that some particles had crossed epithelial membranes,” as stated in the study.
What Does It Mean?
The other problem is, more and more areas where scallops live are getting the microplastic contamination. In other words, nowadays, it is almost impossible for seafood lovers to avoid microplastic contamination this way.
Is this a major health problem? Should we avoid scallops? That’s the question that we should ask, but researchers are still unsure about the answer. Up to nowadays, researchers still cannot find whether microplastic can get through our systems or not via ingestion.
Although scientists are still unsure about how microplastic particles may affect human health, but it is just a matter of time to find out the fact. Almost impossible the presence of alien substances in our body doesn’t affect our health.
The study about how scallops respond to microplastic contamination explains so many things we were unaware of. The first fact is that not so many animals are aware of microplastic contamination. Maybe it is only humans who are aware of it.
Thus, the unaware marine creatures just do their normal things without caring about microplastic ingestion. This is a dangerous thing both to the marine ecosystem and humans who like to consume ocean produces.
Are going to continue killing the ocean, and eventually ourselves, this way? It is already time to change our bad habits.