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The Plight of the Oyster in the World’s Plastic-Filled Oceans

oystersIn recent years, scientists and researchers have found that the ocean is littered with plastic. What’s worse is that some of this plastic is too small to even be removed and it is harming sea life in more ways than one.

Luckily enough, many beauty companies and countries worldwide are cutting down and even prohibiting the manufacturing and selling of these plastic microbeads. But, considering that the world makes and consumes about 600 billion pounds of plastic annually plastic still poses a huge problem.

And it’s not just that these microplastics are harming our sea life now. A new study looking at oysters has found that the consumption of plastics is actually harming their fertility and offspring.

Scientists at France’s National Marine Research Agency in Plouzane studied Pacific oysters that were living in water contaminated with thousands of microplastics. After two months of living in these conditions, the scientists found that the oysters produced fewer and smaller egg cells, less-mobile sperm, and overall fewer offspring than oysters in cleaner water. Additionally, the offspring in question grew slower than usual.

Arnaud Huvet, one of the researchers on the study, explains that when the oysters digest the small pieces of plastic, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are released into their bodies. These hormones are known to affect reproductive systems and can be passed down to offspring from generation to generation.

This study isn’t the first that has focused on oysters and plastics. In fact, both the Vancouver Island University and the Vancouver Aquarium’s OCean Pollution Research Program have looked into just how much plastic these oysters are ingesting. While it is impossible to exactly know the amount ingested, the scientists point out that there is more plastic than ever expected in the world’s oceans.

Back in 2013, British Columbian researchers found that there were a staggering 9,200 particles of microplastic per cubic meter of seawater. For perspective, this is the equivalent of emptying an entire salt shaker into a large moving box.

But back in 2013, these plastics were only found in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Now, experts estimate that there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s oceans, a number that will soon outweigh the weight of fish.

Currently, plastic particles are being found as north as the desolate Arctic Ocean. What’s more is that these plastics were found in areas that are hundreds of miles from land, pointing to the fact that plastic can reach animals who have never even come in contact with humans.

Marine biologist Tim Gordon of Exeter University explains to The Telegraph the true problem that this can cause:

“The Arctic Ocean’s wildlife used to be protected by a layer of sea ice all year round Now that is melting away, this environment will be exposed to commercial fishing, shipping and industry for the first time in history.”

Unfortunately, the sheer amount of plastics in the oceans is getting too big for scientists to handle. Wildlife are the most affected in the world by these microplastics; an estimated one million birds, 100,000 turtles, and thousands of other sea animals die each year around the world from ingesting plastic.

But oysters are the lucky ones. Not all species have been studied in depth like oysters, which shows that there are hundreds out there that need human intervention to stop plastic from taking over.