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Do These Fish Harm the Oceans?

Do These Fish Harm the Oceans?

This is one in a series of stories; visit The Daily Meal Special Report: Water for more.

With earth's burgeoning populations to feed, we must turn to the sea with new understanding and new technology. We must learn to farm the sea as we have farmed the land.” — Jacques Cousteau

Sustainability can be loosely defined as a method of harvesting a resource without completely and permanently depleting it, though some would argue that it's more than that: It’s a whole philosophy of how to use the earth’s natural resources.

One of the greatest of those resources, and arguably the one most in need of sustaining, is water. The oceans, stretching across the globe, are an integral part of all life. They are essential to the carbon cycle, they influence weather and climate (which are not the same thing), and support a plethora of living species — many of which we humans rely upon for sustenance and nutrition, directly or indirectly.

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic plants and animals under controlled conditions. In large part, that means fish. We're constantly told that eating seafood is a healthy habit, and we depend on fish for vital nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain health and fetus development. As stocks of wild fish around the world decline, we obviously need a way to raise fish safely and sustainably ourselves — through aquaculture. In a recent webinar on the subject, Dr. Michael Tlusty, Director of Ocean Sustainability Science at the New England Aquarium, pointed out that "[T]he development [of aquaculture] has increased over the past 30 to 40 years, wild fisheries have become stationary, and we need to rely on the growth of aquaculture.” Tlusty went on the state that today “half of the global seafood is from aquaculture and will be 60 percent by 2030.”

Unfortunately, there are problems with current aquacultural practices. Water pollution is one. For example, water that flows out of an aquaculture facility can carry pollutants such as bacteria, chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, growth hormones, dyes, and diseased organisms straight into the open ocean. This can in turn cause damage ocean wildlife and poison ocean habitats. Discarded feed and fecal matter also occurs in the wastewater from these types of operations. These can dissipate oxygen levels in the water, leaving it murky and rank-smelling and killing wild seafood. The waste can also settle on the seafloor, disturbing and polluting the organisms that live there. The anti-fouling chemicals used on the cages and pens can also contribute to ocean contamination. Toxins found in these agents have been linked to reproductive and immune problems in ocean wildlife.Another issue is that each year, millions of farmed fish escape into open waters and interbreed with wild fish, potentially polluting the natural genetic pool, and possibly leading to the extinction of natural species.

Another issue is that each year, millions of farmed fish escape into open waters and interbreed with wild fish, potentially polluting the natural genetic pool, and possibly leading to the extinction of natural species. The feed for farmed fish also depletes the wild fish population. Farmed fish are often fed wild fish after being processed into fish meal or oil. These wild fish are an essential part of the ocean ecosystem and it can take two to six pounds of wild fish to raise one point of farmed fish. Salmon and tuna are popular aquaculture fish that are one some of the fastest growing seafood products, and extremely dependent on wild fish as feed.

Several organizations are working to better the situation. The Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIP) is an alliance of producers, suppliers, and buyers who are working together to address these issues and trying to identify workable aquaculture “zones.” Without zoning, one farm’s inlet could be next to another farm’s outlet; too many cages can co-exist in one area, releasing too many nutrients and waste escaping into one habitat. The Sustainable Fish Partnership (SFP) is aiming to reduce the amount of antibiotics released into the water by seeking to treat the causes of disease rather than the symptoms. SFP believes that more planning and coordination between the fish farming industry and regulators is necessary. Oceana works to stop the expansion of the farming industry until legislation and regulations that protect the ocean are in place. They aim to raise the sanitation standards for these farms in order to lessen water contamination and protect marine life. New aquaculture technology is also helping to address some of these issues. Free-floating spheres made of galvanized steel wire that can be transferred to different locations may result in less pollution in concentrated areas.

While we are still far from where we should be, we have a vision of where this sustainability movement needs to be. And there are several groups and organizations that are aiming to better the situation and help gear us toward the right aquaculture practices. There needs to be a common ground between aquaculture and the safety of our ocean that lowers the farm’s environmental impact while still producing the fish needed to sustain our population. If aquaculture is the future of seafood and our ocean, we have to learn how to do responsibly.

From sea to plate: how plastic got into our fish

Eight million tonnes of waste plastic ends up in the sea each year. Fish eat it - and then we do. How bad is it for us?

First published on Tue 14 Feb 2017 16.00 GMT

I t’s enough to make you cry over your moules frites. Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year. We absorb fewer than 1%, but they will still accumulate in the body over time. The findings affect all Europeans, but, as the most voracious consumers of mussels, the Belgians were deemed to be most exposed. Britons should sympathise – last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University caused a stir when it was reported that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. Now, UK supermarkets are being lobbied to create plastic-free aisles by the campaign group A Plastic Planet, as a feature-length documentary, A Plastic Ocean, is released in Britain this week.

We are finally paying attention to the pollution that has plagued our seas for years – the government is considering a refundable deposit on plastic bottles, and pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson recently switched from plastic to paper stems on its cotton buds. Evidently, there’s nothing like serving plastic up on a dinner plate to focus the mind.

Whether your national obsession is moules frites or fish and chips, this problem goes way beyond Britain and Belgium. Contaminated fish and shellfish have been found everywhere from Europe, Canada and Brazil to the coast of mainland China – and plastic-eating fish are now showing up in supermarkets. The question is no longer: are we eating plastic in our seafood? What scientists are urgently trying to establish is just how bad for us that is. Another question we might ask: how did we get here?

More than a century ago, in 1907, another Belgian, Leo Baekeland, a graduate of Ghent University, invented bakelite. It was, he later admitted, something of an accident, but this welcome development ushered in a colourful new age of plastics. Until then, we had, at great cost and effort, been manipulating products out of natural materials such as shellac, derived from beetle shells. (Charles Mackintosh’s first “mac” – which used derivatives of tar and rubber – must have been pretty pungent in a downpour.) Baekeland, who had moved to the US, saw commercial potential in an entirely synthetic replacement for shellac that would be suitable for mass production. Bakelite was lightweight, affordable, malleable and safe, but perhaps the greatest thing about the plastic Baekeland created, and those that followed, was its durability.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, innovations came thick (and thin) and fast – polystyrene, polyester, PVC, nylon. Soon, they were an inextricable part of everyday life. And then, in 1950, that scourge of the sea arrived: the throwaway polythene bag. In that decade, annual global plastic production reached 5m tonnes by 2014, it stood at 311m tonnes – shockingly, over 40% of it for single-use packing. Now, plastic’s durability looks less of a boon than it once did. A study in Science Magazine in 2015 estimated that around 8m tonnes of plastic go into the sea each year. And, last year, a report for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (launched in 2010 by the former round-the-world sailor to promote a more circular economy) estimated that, by 2050, the volume of accumulated plastics in the oceans will be greater than that of fish.

Evidently a keen sailor, Baekeland retired in 1939, to spend time on his 70ft yacht, the Ion. Ninety years after his plastics breakthrough, in 1997, another sailor (since turned oceanographer and campaigner), Charles Moore, was traversing the ocean between Hawaii and California when he came across the now infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of the five main subtropical gyres (circulating systems of ocean currents that draw floating debris into a kind of massive junk vortex). Ever since its discovery, there has been vigorous debate over the size of the patch, with descriptions ranging from the size of Texas to twice that of France. It is, in fact, impossible to definitively measure, because its size – and litter visible on the surface – changes with currents and winds, but its heart is thought to be around 1m sq km, with the periphery spanning a further 3.5m sq km, stretching roughly from the west coast of North America to Japan. An aerial survey last year by Dutch foundation The Ocean Cleanup found it is far bigger than previously estimated, while the UN’s environmental programme warns it is growing so fast that it is now visible from space.

In 1997, Moore saw bottles, bags and bits of polystyrene. But what really worried him, and has occupied campaigners and scientists ever since, was the vast soup of tiny plastic particles swirling around below the junk. Moore returned in 1999 to measure the weight of these “microplastics”. “We found six times more plastic than plankton,” he said, sparking a flurry of worldwide research that has not let up since. Researchers from around the world pooled data over six years to 2013, and reached the conclusion that there are already more than five trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, most of them microplastics.

Fish and chips could also be affected by plastic contamination. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Microplastics – which range in size from 5mm to 10 nanometres – come from a number of sources. One culprit is “nurdles”, the raw plastic pellets shipped around the world for manufacturing, easily lost during transportation (in 2012 a typhoon spilled millions from a ship in Hong Kong). Recently, the spotlight has been on so-called microbeads, tiny plastic balls found in some cosmetic facial scrubs and toothpaste (many governments, including the UK’s, have moved to ban them). Like microfibres – the threads from synthetic clothes lost during laundry, and rubber debris from vehicle tyres – these tiny pieces of plastic are too small to be filtered out of our wastewater systems, and huge quantities end up in the sea. But it’s the single-use plastics for packaging, more than a third of everything we produce, that present the greatest problem. While many plastics don’t biodegrade, they do photodegrade – UV exposure eventually breaks all those plastic bottles and bags down into tiny pieces, which, in common with microbeads and fibres, potentially leach toxic chemical additives – PCBs, pesticides, flame retardants – put there by manufacturers. These tiny particles look like food to some species, and, last November, new research showed that common plastics attract a thin layer of marine algae, making them smell like nutritious food.

In July 2015, a team at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory released film they had captured under a microscope showing zooplankton eating microplastic. Given that these tiny organisms form a crucial part of the food chain, the implications were immediately shocking. But a huge variety of the fish and shellfish we eat are consuming plastics directly too. Research published last year in the journal Science found that juvenile perch actively preferred polystyrene particles to the plankton they would normally eat. While most plastic has been found in the guts of fish, and would therefore be removed before eating, some studies have warned that microplastics, particularly at the nanoscale, could transfer from the guts to the meat (and, of course, we eat some species of small fish and shellfish whole). There is growing concern about toxins leaching – laboratory tests have shown that chemicals associated with microplastics can concentrate in the tissues of marine animals. Some commercially important species have seen the majority of their population affected. In 2011 in the Clyde in Scotland, 83% of Dublin Bay prawns, the tails of which are used in scampi, had ingested microplastics so had 63% of brown shrimp tested across the Channel and southern part of the North Sea.

A fortnight ago, Gesamp, a joint group of experts on the scientific aspects of marine environmental protection, published the second part of its global assessment on microplastics. It confirmed that contamination has been recorded in tens of thousands of organisms and more than 100 species. Last year, the European Food Safety Authority called for urgent research, citing increasing concern for human health and food safety “given the potential for microplastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish”. In the face of such widespread contamination, the outlook seems bleak.

Yet Professor Richard Thompson, a leading international expert on microplastics and marine debris, is upbeat. He has been working in this field for 20 years. In 2004, his team at Plymouth University released the first research on marine microplastics, were the first to show microplastics were retained by organisms such as mussels, and it was their research that found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish. He is reassuringly unfazed about the recent headlines. “You would have to eat well over 10,000 mussels a year to reach the quantities of plastics the Belgian studies suggest,” he says. Even for Belgians, that seems excessive. And, crucially, there is no evidence of harm to humans from those quantities. He agrees contamination is widespread – and concerning – but it is “not yet a cause for alarm. Quantities are low, and at current levels human exposure is likely to be greater in the home or office than via food or drink.” But, he adds: “It’s only going to increase. If we carry on with business as usual, it will be a different story down the line, in 10, 20 years.”

Mussels … under scrutiny by scientists. Photograph: Gary Conner/Getty Images

It’s important not to overstate the risks before they’re fully understood. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation pointed out in 2014 (pdf) just how reliant we have become on seafood as a source of protein – an estimated 10-12% of the global population relies on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihood. Per capita fish consumption has risen from 10kg in the 1960s to more than 19kg in 2012, and seafood production is annually increasing at a rate of 3.2%, twice the world population growth rate. In other words, demand for seafood is increasing, just as its future viability is at risk. Something has to give – and it is increasingly clear that has to be our reliance on throwaway plastics.

When you’re alone in the middle of the Southern Ocean, the nearest land is Antarctica and the closest people are manning the space station above, there’s time to think. If you’re Dame Ellen MacArthur, it sets you to thinking about the flaws of our global economy. As she tells it: “Your boat is your entire world and what you take with you when you leave is all you have, to the last drop of diesel and last package of food. There is no more.” Our economy, she realised, is no different: “It’s entirely dependent on finite materials we have only once in the history of humanity.” To MacArthur, the solution is simple – instead of using these resources up, we should design the waste element out of products in the first place. MacArthur, through her foundation, is working with industry leaders and others to approach design with end of life in mind. She has found one particularly strong ally in the Prince of Wales, whose International Sustainability Unit (ISU) is also working on how innovation and design can reduce the impact of plastic production on the environment.

Two weeks ago, the ISU organised a working group, which included MacArthur, to look at plastic waste in the oceans. This is how Professor Thompson found himself on the banks of Rainham Marshes in Essex, collecting plastic debris with senior executives from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Adidas, Dell and Marks & Spencer. Of what they picked up, about 80% was plastic bottles – those executives probably saw their own products spat back at them from the Thames. They were shocked, apparently, at the scale of it, which Thompson pointed out “was not inconsistent with beaches worldwide”. Then they all went to the recycling plant. Only a third of the UK’s annual 1.5m tonnes of recyclable plastic waste is recycled. While many drinks bottles are made of easily recyclable PET, some brands add plastic sleeves or colour the bottles, reducing their recyclability. The execs watched those bottles picked out, simply due to a lack of thought at the design stage.

The idea of the circular economy is taking hold there is now broad agreement that industry needs to move towards products that maximise recycling and re-use. As the Prince of Wales put it: “We do need to consider, from the very beginning, the second, third and, indeed, fourth life of the products we use in everyday life.” Thompson is heartened. “This growing recognition,” he says, “was not the case 10 years ago when industry pointed at consumers saying they were responsible … now it’s much clearer there’s responsibility on both sides.” And in what he describes as an exciting step forward, we might see the formation of a stewardship council for plastics, which will connect industries from manufacture through to recycling, and, as the Marine Stewardship Council does for fishing, accredit responsible practice. After all, plastic is not the enemy, it’s incredibly useful, not least in reducing food waste. What’s so positive about recent progress, Thompson points out, is that “unlike other environmental problems, this isn’t a case of us having to do without, we just have to do it differently”.

Perhaps the shock of finding plastics returning to us on our dinner plates will help to bring that message home. “We’re on the edge of a major ecological disaster,” Thompson says. “Microplastics in seafood is an illustration of that. There are things we can do, but we need to do them now.”

Move Aside Mercury, PCBs Are the Real Toxins in Fish

Fish can concentrate extremely high levels of chemical residues in their flesh and fat, as much as 9 million times that of the water in which they live.

Mercury isn’t the only dangerous toxin in fish flesh—people who eat fish also ingest PCBs. As big fish eat little fish, PCBs become more concentrated in their flesh. Fish-eaters who ingest these dangerous chemicals suffer from increased cancer risk and may experience decreased mental functioning and damaged sexual health.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are synthetic chemicals that were once used in hydraulic fluids and oils and electrical capacitors and transformers. These toxins were banned in the United States in 1979 for use in all but completely enclosed areas, but heavy past usage has resulted in environmental contamination worldwide, especially in fish. PCBs are dangerous because they act like hormones, wreaking havoc on the nervous system and contributing to a variety of illnesses, including cancer, infertility, and other sexual problems.

Researchers at the University of Illinois found that fish-eaters with high levels of PCBs in their blood have difficulty recalling information that they learned just 30 minutes earlier.

PCBs are absorbed into the bodies of fish. Bigger fish who eat smaller fish accumulate greater and greater concentrations of PCBs in their flesh and can reach levels that may be many thousands of times higher than the PCB levels in the water itself, which most people would never think of drinking. One bottle-nose dolphin had PCB levels of 2,000 parts per million (ppm)—40 times the amount required for hazardous waste disposal. Inuit natives, whose diets consist largely of fish, have been found with PCB levels of 15.7 ppm in their fat, far higher concentrations than the maximum amount considered to be safe in fish by the EPA (.094 ppm). Nearly all Inuit have PCB levels far above guideline levels that health officials consider safe, and some Inuit have ingested so much contamination from fish that their breast milk and body tissues would be classified as hazardous waste. In the United States in 2002, 38 states issued fish consumption advisories because of high PCB levels.

PCBs Will Make You Stupid

Fish-eaters in one study had high levels of lead, mercury, and DDE in their blood. Even low concentrations of lead can cause mental retardation and physical disability in children. Higher levels can lead to coma, convulsions, and death.

Dr. Susan L. Schantz of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine has been studying fish-eaters since 1992 and has found that people who ate 24 pounds or more of fish per year have problems with learning and memory. (On average, people around the world consume 40 pounds of fish per year.) She found that fish-eaters often have high levels of PCBs in their blood and thus have difficulty recalling information they learned just 30 minutes earlier. Says Schantz: “It had been assumed that mature adults are less susceptible [to PCBs] than are developing fetuses. This may not be the case.” Some fish-eaters in her study had high levels of lead, mercury, and DDE (formed when DDT breaks down) in their blood.30 Even low concentrations of lead can cause mental retardation and physical disability in children. Higher levels can lead to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, seizures, and even death.

Fish Farming: Making Fish Flesh Even More Toxic

Because salmon are becoming so rare in the wild, 80 percent of the salmon consumed in America today come from massive fish farms. These farmed fish are actually fed the flesh of wild-caught fish. It takes 5 pounds of commercially caught fish (all species that would not be saleable to humans) to create 1 pound of farmed fish. All that commercially netted fish comes with heavy doses of toxins, as discussed above, which then concentrate in the flesh of farmed fish, making it the most toxic thing that humans routinely put into their bodies. Farmed salmon also have twice the fat of wild salmon, and this fat collects even more toxins. Tests on farmed salmon purchased at U.S. grocery stores show that these fish are contaminated with even more PCBs than their wild counterparts.

Plus, farmed salmon are dyed pink to impersonate their wild cousins. In 2003, a class-action lawsuit was filed in the state of Washington because the labeling on farmed salmon neglected to mention the artificial coloring. Scientists are concerned because the dyes used in salmon can cause retinal damage.

Finally, in August 2004, scientists from Indiana University warned that industrial-strength fire retardant is showing up in salmon flesh worldwide.

What Can You Do?

Ocean acidification is caused by too much carbon dioxide. One way to reduce carbon dioxide is to limit your use of fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, natural gas). Tips you probably heard long ago for reducing energy, such as driving less, biking or walking to work or school, turning off lights when not in use, turning your heat down, etc., will all help reduce the amount of CO2 that goes into the atmosphere, and consequently into the ocean.

  • Lester Kwiatkowski, Brian Gaylord, Tessa Hill, Jessica Hosfelt, Kristy J. Kroeker, Yana Nebuchina, Aaron Ninokawa, Ann D. Russell, Emily B. Rivest, Marine Sesboüé, Ken Caldeira. Nighttime dissolution in a temperate coastal ocean ecosystem increases under acidification. Scientific Reports, 2016 6: 22984 DOI: 10.1038/srep22984
  • Mcleish, T. 2015. Lobster growth rates to decline under increasing ocean acidification conditions. Accessed April 29, 2016.
  • Volmert, A. 2014. Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Using Metaphorical and Causal Explanation to Increase Public Understanding of Climate and Ocean Change. Frameworks Institute.

3. Hold Companies Accountable.

krblokhin/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It's not just individual consumers who need to watch their plastic consumption—it's local restaurants and global corporations as well. Find out which companies and businesses employ the best practices when it comes to packaging and plastic usage and which ones don't. If you feel like your local take-out place or café is being excessively wasteful, tell them. (Also, do your part by telling them you don't need any plastic utensils or paper napkins if you're planning to eat at home or the office.)

And if your issue is with a larger chain, get in touch with them on social media or write an email. Then you can start digging deeper. Harmful microbeads are banned in the U.S. [PDF] for their impact on oceans, but what about in other countries? And are the products you're using actually free of them? Find out, because while you may practice clean ocean habits, the companies you buy from may not.

How Does Plastic Pollution Affect the Ocean?

Every day, eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean. That&rsquos equivalent to one truckload dumped into the sea every minute of the day. From there, it goes on a long and destructive journey. &ldquoThe plastic that enters the ocean can be carried vast distances by currents to all parts of the world, including remote Antarctica and the Mariana trench, the deepest place on Earth,&rdquo says Winnie Lau, senior officer for The Pew Charitable Trusts&rsquo Preventing Ocean Plastics campaign. Along the way, it infiltrates ecosystems and causes untold harm to marine life.

Yet despite the scale of this problem, global plastic production continues, placing the oceans at ever-increasing risk. What makes the ocean so vulnerable to plastic pollution &ndash and what can we do to limit the amount that gets in?

What&rsquos the problem with plastic?

Plastic is almost inescapable in our daily lives. It&rsquos used to make everything from food packaging to toiletries, clothing, furniture, computers and cars. This ubiquitous material is designed to be very durable &ndash and as a result much of it doesn&rsquot biodegrade. Depending on the type, plastic can take between a few decades to potentially millions of years to disintegrate in landfill. Consequently, unless it&rsquos burned, which itself causes pollution, nearly every piece of plastic ever manufactured still exists today &ndash and when it enters the ocean, its effects can be felt for centuries.

Where does waste come from?

Globally, we produce more than 300 million tons of plastic waste each year, and that number is rising. Yet of all the plastic waste ever created, only 9% has been recycled, while the rest has been incinerated or discarded, mainly ending up in landfills. A big reason for this is that 50% of the plastic we produce is single use, meaning it&rsquos intended to be thrown away immediately after it has served its purpose &ndash like straws, plastic carrier bags and water bottles. Because it&rsquos so frequently produced and so rapidly discarded, single-use plastic increases the amount of waste entering landfills, and in turn, that increases the amount that inevitably escapes into the environment.

Why is the ocean so badly affected by plastic?

Incredibly vast and deep, the ocean acts like a huge sink for global pollution. Some of the plastic in the ocean originates from ships that lose cargo at sea. Abandoned plastic fishing nets and longlines &ndash known as ghost gear &ndash is also a large source, making up about 10% of plastic waste at sea. Marine aquaculture contributes to the problem, too, mainly when the polystyrene foam that&rsquos used to make the floating frames of fish cages makes its way into the sea.

But the vast majority of waste enters the water from land. Extreme weather and high winds brings it there, and pollution along coastlines gets swiftly hauled out by the tides. The ocean is also the endpoint for thousands of rivers, which carry tonnes of loose litter and waste from landfills, ultimately depositing it into the sea. In fact, just 10 rivers worldwide, eight of them originating in Asia, are responsible for the bulk of river-borne plastic that enters the oceans: China&rsquos Yangtze is the biggest source, contributing 1.5 million metric tonnes each year. That&rsquos mainly because several countries outsourced their plastic waste management to China. Until January 2018, when it banned the trade, China imported almost half of the world&rsquos plastic trash.

Once in the ocean, the harsh conditions and constant motion cause plastic to break down into particles of less than 5mm in diameter, called microplastics. This disperses plastic even farther and deeper into the ocean, where it invades more habitats and becomes effectively impossible to retrieve.

What&rsquos the impact on marine life?

Hundreds of thousands of marine animals get entangled in plastic waste each year &ndash especially in ghost gear &ndash which limits their motion and their ability to feed, and causes injuries and infections. Less visible is the devastation that occurs through the ingestion of plastic: seabirds, turtles, fish, and whales commonly mistake plastic waste for food, because some has a similar colour and shape to their prey. Floating plastic also accumulates microbes and algae on the surface that gives it an odour that&rsquos appetising to some sea animals. Once animals consume it, ingested plastic can pierce internal organs or cause fatal intestinal blockages it also leads to starvation, because a stomach crammed with plastic gives an animal the illusion of being full.

Microplastics look similar to plankton, too, which is food for hundreds of species at the base of the food chain, meaning plastic infiltrates entire ecosystems. Researchers have even discovered that organisms as tiny as the polyps in corals regularly consume microplastics.

Furthermore, plastics absorb pollutants that are floating around in the ocean, and contain harmful chemicals themselves. Preliminary research suggests that when animals consume these toxin-infused particles, it could damage their organs, make them more susceptible to disease, and alter their reproduction.

How bad is it, really?

Plastic pollution is so pervasive that it&rsquos been found in some of the wildest and most remote locations on our planet, including Antarctica, and the deepest canyons of the Mariana trench. Ocean currents have coalesced floating plastic into five huge, swirling deep sea gyres &ndash such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an area of ocean three times the size of France. Estimates suggest there could be upwards of 5 trillion individual pieces of plastic floating in the ocean. And if we continue producing plastic at current rates, the amount could outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050. Research also shows that more than 800 coastal and marine species are directly affected by plastic waste through entanglement, ingestion, or damage to their habitats. Studies show that 90% of seabirds, and 52% of all turtles on the planet have consumed plastic. Additionally, a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die annually because of plastic waste.

How does plastic pollution impact humans?

When marine animals consume plastic, the toxins it contains breaks down inside their bodies. So when humans eat seafood, we&rsquore consuming these, too. Some of these plastic toxins are linked to hormonal abnormalities, and developmental problems. But researchers are still trying to understand exactly how our health is affected when we consume plastic via fish and shellfish. Analyses so far have suggested that microplastics don&rsquot necessarily pose a risk to human health. But there&rsquos still lots we don&rsquot know. One concern is that plastics in the ocean eventually degrades into nano-plastics, which are so small they could enter human cells when consumed. In 2019, experts called for more research into the effect of micro- and nano-plastics on human health.

What can I do?

Undoubtedly, the biggest impact consumers can make is to reduce their use of single-use plastic, which contributes a significant share to plastic pollution in the sea. Recycling plastic wherever possible is also important. Volunteering for group clean-ups of rivers and beaches helps to reduce the amount of loose plastic that makes its way into the sea. Supporting campaigns and policy changes that reduce the production of unnecessary plastics is crucial, too. This has led to huge successes in the past, such as the ban in the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries on using microbeads &ndash tiny spheres made of plastic &ndash in toiletries and cosmetics. Similarly, in China government action on plastics led to a countrywide ban in 2008 on thin, single-use carrier bags. Now that&rsquos being extended to gradually phase out single-use plastics across the country by 2025.

Can tedschnology help?

Researchers and innovators are developing solutions to stop plastic getting into the sea. A Dutch company called The Ocean Cleanup has invented a huge floating boom that siphons plastic waste out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In the Chinese port city of Xiamen, university researchers are developing a camera surveillance system to identify plastic and forecast its trajectory downriver, so they can stop it before it enters the sea. The European Space Agency is even using its satellites to track plastic waste from space, in the hopes of informing new policies that will limit plastic pollution. Advances in developing biodegradable plastics could also have a huge impact on ocean health: researchers are currently working on a bioplastic that degrades in seawater, which could ultimately reduce the amount of waste that accumulates there.

But the only way to truly solve this problem is to dramatically reduce the production of plastic, which means curbing our addiction to it. &ldquoThe most important thing we must do is stop plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place, because it is not feasible or cost-effective to do large-scale cleanups,&rdquo says Lau. &ldquoOnce in the ocean, plastic waste will stay there for hundreds of years or longer. That is not a legacy I would want to leave for future generations.&rdquo

Emma Bryce is a freelance journalist who covers stories focused on the environment, conservation and climate change.

Mary Flora Hart is a UK-based freelance illustrator specialising in immersive scenes with high levels of detail.

This article appears courtesy of China Dialogue Ocean, and it may be found in its original form here.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.

What Least Fishy Tasting Fish For Beginners?

Pacific Cod

Among different Cod types, this particular one is found mostly in the Pacific Ocean, so it is also classified as the Pacific Cod.

At the first bite, the fish brings such an impressive mild and sweet taste. Likewise, there isn’t any strong or particular smell from the Cod, making it an excellent choice to begin with.

To put it another way, you can definitely use Pacific Cod as a kick-start dish to fish-eating.

However, we recommend you use your fish as soon as possible because the longer you store, the less fresh it is, and the more chances bacteria has to invade.In addition, the Pacific Cod can be cooked in a variety of methods like baking, broiling, boiling, steaming, frying, and sauteing without losing its lightly sweet taste. Generally, the food is easy to prepare.


Flounder is voted as one of the best fish for people who don’t like fish (at least with the beginner to start). Similar to the Cod, Flounder can taste moderately sweet without any particular smell.

What makes the flounder challenging to cook is its delicate texture. Hearing about “delicate”, you must imagine a tasty, pleasantly visualized dish, right?

Even though that texture can create such a delicious recipe, it’s not the same pleasure to cook it, though.

For instance, when picking the fish, the cook must be overly careful because its flat and slimy form can slip from your fingers at any second or at least you should prepare carefully to protect your hand before handling it.

Compared to other fish on this list, the Flounder’s flesh resembles the Cod for its delicate texture and mild sweetness.

In contrast to Lingcod, its flavor is quite similar but the Lingcod’s composition is thicker.

The flounder can be prepared in many ways: boiling, frying, steaming or broiling but still retains the mild sweetness, making it a good fish for beginners.

Even though there are many struggles while cooking, we believe that it’s all worth it to have a delicious and versatile flounder for your meal.

Typically, flounder tastes great by itself, but, for better flavor, you can use it with lemon piccata or pasta.


Compared to other fish, lingcod has a firm and dense texture that gradually turns white when cooking.

It is said that the more you chew the fish, the sweetener the fish can get. To add-in, the fishy smell is so light that sometimes you can’t even realize it at all.

Typically, the lingcod’s taste is neutral, so we recommend you to add some seasonings to flavor the food such as black pepper, salt, or lemon juice.

But on the bright side, this lack of flavor can take you to a rich land of imagination. As this fish is all but mild, you can make it in any method from boiling, steaming to frying as you want.

However, when buying raw, the lingcod looks quite… distasteful with sharp, dangerous-looking teeth and significant size.

Don’t let it throw you off though, because after the cooking process, the fish can become a delicious, mouth-watering dish for you.

In my point of view, LingCod is the best least fishy type that is worth trying. I was not in the least upset by its taste at all.


Some people may be confused about my choice because the swordfish is a saltwater fish – one of the least strong fishy fish of all, so it must have a stronger fishy taste than others, right?

However, that is a misconception. In fact, they are considered as the excellent fish for first-time fish eaters. So, which feature puts swordfish on the top of the most least fishy fish?

Like other fish on this list, the swordfish is said to be the strongest fish in the ocean, which means the texture must be firm and dense.

When available raw, it has pinkish-red flesh. When cooking, the flesh turns slowly into beige.

Not to mention, the swordfish is packed with a mild and slightly sweet flavor. To compare, in terms of flavor, the swordfish and the Mahi-mahi can be used interchangeably.

However, evaluating the thick flesh, it’s more likely that they provide buttery and meaty dishes.

To add-in, there isn’t any stinky smell from the swordfish, making it a proper choice for first-time fish eaters.

With such incredible characteristics, the swordfish is so easy to cook in any method.

Typically, this fish tastes best when being grilled. Its oil combined with the dense flesh will create an unforgettable delicious, meaty dish for your family.

With the firm texture, the mildly sweet flavor, and delish aroma, swordfish is the right choice if you are finding the least tasting fishy fish.

However, the amount of mercury in swordfish is quite high, so we don’t recommend using it daily.


Mahi-mahi is a fish that lives in tropical oceans around the globe. In terms of quality, the Mahi-mahi is said to be the tastiest fish for its tender flesh. Another famous name for it is dolphinfish.

When we mention the “most delicious” label, you must wonder, “What exactly does it taste like?”, right? So, to describe the flavor of Mahi-mahi, it’s better to put it in a comparison to other types of fish.

In terms of texture, the Mahi-mahi is firmer than the Flounder and the Swordfish, as thick as the Lingcod, making it the right choice for grilling and marinating.

In terms of taste, the Mahi-mahi’s flesh resembles the Lingcod for its mild sweetness. However, compared to the Pacific Cod, it provides a more robust flavor.

In brief, the Mahi-mahi is balanced, moderately sweet, but not at the irritating level. The texture is firm enough to cook without worrying about falling out.

Furthermore, it is not fishy at all, so the Mahi-mahi must be a perfect match for who cannot endure the stinky.

Off Hawaii, a single eight-minute tow of the NOAA team’s net yields a plethora of living organisms and plastic.

Pushed into a surface slick by converging currents, they’re separated in the lab by a technician with tweezers. A computer program counts the plastic pieces and measures each one the technician uses a microscope to identify the creatures.

Whitney and Gove came to ocean science and Hawaii by happenstance. Whitney, 37, grew up in New Jersey with a kid’s plan to become a veterinarian. He arrived in Honolulu in 2006 as a volunteer for a census of humpback whales. In graduate school he worked his way down to the tiniest organisms of the sea.

Gove, 40, grew up in San Diego and learned to surf before he could read. A summer job with NOAA convinced him the ocean was more than a playground. After helping to cut 70 tons of abandoned fishing gear from Hawaiian coral reefs, Gove enrolled in graduate school to become an oceanographer. He specialized in how winds, tides, and waves affect ocean ecosystems and surface slicks in particular.

Slicks are transient—they break up in rough weather—which makes studying them a challenge. Gove and Whitney took me to see a slick off Oahu because it was close to their lab, but their main research site is on the west side of Hawaii, the Big Island, where two large volcanoes provide an even better wind shadow than Oahu’s Waianae Range. The steep drop-off of the seafloor has proved to be a surprise bonus: The slicks attract an oceanic convention of not only reef fish but also fish from greater depths, including commercially important mahi-mahi, swordfish, and marlin.

“One of the coolest things we found was the diversity,” Whitney says. “We’ve got deep-sea fish, mid-ocean fish, and reef fish, all interacting at the surface for the first few weeks of their lives. It was incredibly unique. I can’t think of any other place on Earth where babies from different areas share nursery grounds.”

He and Gove expected to find plastics in their slicks the Hawaiian chain is in the drift pattern of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But they never intended to join the growing hunt for microplastics that has overtaken the work of so many marine scientists. Their focus was basic research on larval fish. Their samples contained such loads of plastic, however, that they had to revise their project.

The preliminary results indicate that slicks concentrate plastics even more than they do larval fish. In the water outside slicks, Whitney and Gove found nearly three times more larval fish than microplastics. Inside slicks, the situation was reversed: Microplastics outnumbered larval fish by more than seven to one. On average there was almost 130 times as much plastic inside slicks as outside.

“We didn’t have any idea we would find such concentrations,” Gove says. One of the first fish they dissected had plastic in its gut.

What harm such plastic is causing is still unsettled science. But in lab tests, some clues have emerged. Plastic reduces the appetites and growth rates of fish that consume it. That could affect reproduction and ultimately population size. “The larger a female fish is, the more eggs she can carry and the higher number of offspring she can produce,” Brander says.

In their lab, Whitney and Gove oversaw the dissection of more than 650 larval fish, most of them between one-third of an inch to half an inch in length. They found plastic in 8.6 percent of the ones caught in slicks. That doesn’t sound like much, and outside slicks the percentage was less than half that—but scientists know that small changes in the survival of larval fish can translate into large changes in fish populations, with cascading effects up the food chain.

The NOAA researchers found tiny blue strands of polyethylene and polypropylene, commonly used to make fishing gear, in the stomachs of larval swordfish, marlins, and five other species. The strands look a lot like the food that larval fish crave: tiny copepods, bluish crustaceans with long, skinny antennae.

In larval mahi-mahis, Whitney and Gove found no plastic. They’re not sure why. Was it because eyesight develops earlier in mahi-​mahis, making them better than other species at distinguishing plastic from prey? Or was it because the mahi-mahis that ate plastic had died and escaped detection?

Flying fish appear to eat plastic especially frequently. Besides serving as prey for larger fish, including sharks, flying fish are primary prey for 95 percent of Hawaiian seabirds. Are birds ingesting plastic with their flying fish, and is that affecting them? For every question the researchers answer, Gove says, 10 new ones come up.

The smallest fish he and Whitney found with plastic in its stomach was just a quarter inch long, about six millimeters. But the plastic fibers the fish are eating are smaller.

“They are less than one millimeter, things you can barely see with the naked eye,” Whitney says. That is “the shocking part: The pieces we can’t even see are the problem.”

In 2018 David Liittschwager photographed jellyfish for the October issue staff writer Laura Parker wrote the June cover story on plastic trash.

The nonprofit National Geographic Society, working to conserve Earth’s resources, helped fund this article.

The National Geographic Society and Sky Ocean Ventures have launched the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge, which asks problem solvers around the globe to develop novel solutions to tackle the world’s plastic waste crisis. Have an idea? Submit your solution by June 11 at

Microplastics in the Ocean

The ocean is filling with plastic at an alarming rate. Some of that plastic is buoyant and visible, but much of it is too small to see from a boat or a plane. These microplastics are impossible to remove and are capable of causing harm to both human and marine health.

What are Microplastics?

A microplastic is any piece of plastic five milimetres or less in size. Microplastics can start out small, or get that way from environmental degradation. Waves, wind, and sun break larger pieces of plastic apart. Rather than biodegrading, plastic just gets smaller. One large piece becomes millions of tiny microplastics, which are all chemically identical to the original.

Microplastics break down into nanoplastics (fragments less than 100 billionths of a meter). These pieces are so small they are invisible to the naked eye and can enter cells, tissues, and organs. No one knows what effect nanoplastics will have, but we do know they will increase as more plastic ends up in our waterways.

Microplastics in the ocean can’t be cleaned up. It’s difficult to estimate how many plastic fragments are in the ocean. One 2014 study estimated there is anywhere from 15 to 51 trillion plastic particles in the ocean. That number is still growing, and quickly. Almost half of all plastic made was produced in the last 18 years. Our dependence on plastic, especially single-use items, continues to grow. And regardless of how many times we use it, all plastic is here to stay.

Where do they come from?

Some microplastics in the ocean are created there when larger pieces break apart. Some arrive small. Synthetic fibers, such as clothing, bedding, and carpets, shed tiny pieces of plastic over time. They can enter the water system when you wash your clothes or particles take off in the wind. Other small plastics include cigarette filters, straws, and chewing gum (yes – gum is plastic and creates 100,000 tons of pollution each year). They enter waterways because they can’t be recycled and often don’t make it to the trash.

Many makeups, body care products, soaps, toothpastes, and abrasive cleaners contain microbeads. These are plastic pieces no larger than a particle of sand. Since all these products are used with water, it’s not hard to imagine how easily they enter our rivers and oceans. A single bottle of face wash can have hundreds of thousands of plastic particles, and most water treatment facilities are unable to filter them out. As a result, microbead products are a direct threat to marine environments. The United States and Canada have both recently banned the use of microbeads in most products, while many European countries have banned them since the early 2000’s.

Why does it matter?

Marine Health

Scientists have documented over 600 species impacted by plastic marine debris. Some of this debris creates physical constraints that trap animals, such as discarded fishing nets or six-pack rings. The majority of this debris causes harm by ingestion. As plastic debris floats around in the ocean, they pick up algae and odors that mimic the smell of food, attracting marine animals to eat them. Plastics build up in the animal’s digestive system, causing blockages and starvation. They also leach toxins that can stress organ function. Although less is known about these effects on marine health.

Plastic is also good at collecting what are known as PBTs, and toxic chemicals such as DDT that persist in the environment even when they are no longer used. As microplastics float around the ocean, they easily collect PBTs. When marine animals ingest plastic, they ingest PBTs, which bioaccumulate in their tissues. When we eat fish, we also eat most of the toxins they’ve ingested in their lifetime.

Human Health

When it comes to microplastics in the ocean, we don’t know much yet about how they will affect human health. It’s not hard to see that they are and will continue to be a problem for the ocean that feeds us. That is why we all need to make an effort to phase plastic out of our lives.

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Plastic Pollution Affects Sea Life Throughout the Ocean

Our ocean and the array of species that call it home are succumbing to the poison of plastic. Examples abound, from the gray whale that died after stranding near Seattle in 2010 with more than 20 plastic bags, a golf ball, and other rubbish in its stomach to the harbor seal pup found dead on the Scottish island of Skye, its intestines fouled by a small piece of plastic wrapper.

According to the United Nations, at least 800 species worldwide are affected by marine debris, and as much as 80 percent of that litter is plastic. It is estimated that up to 13 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year&mdashthe equivalent of a rubbish or garbage truck load&rsquos worth every minute. Fish, seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals can become entangled in or ingest plastic debris, causing suffocation, starvation, and drowning. Humans are not immune to this threat: While plastics are estimated to take up to hundreds of years to fully decompose, some of them break down much quicker into tiny particles, which in turn end up in the seafood we eat.

The following photos help illustrate the extent of the ocean plastics problem.

Research indicates that half of sea turtles worldwide have ingested plastic. Some starve after doing so, mistakenly believing they have eaten enough because their stomachs are full. On many beaches, plastic pollution is so pervasive that it&rsquos affecting turtles&rsquo reproduction rates by altering the temperatures of the sand where incubation occurs.

A recent study found that sea turtles that ingest just 14 pieces of plastic have an increased risk of death. The young are especially at risk because they are not as selective as their elders about what they eat and tend to drift with currents, just as plastic does.

Plastic waste kills up to a million seabirds a year. As with sea turtles, when seabirds ingest plastic, it takes up room in their stomachs, sometimes causing starvation. Many seabirds are found dead with their stomachs full of this waste. Scientists estimate that 60 percent of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic, a figure they predict will rise to 99 percent by 2050.

While dolphins are highly intelligent and thus unlikely to eat plastic, they are susceptible to contamination through prey that have ingested synthetic compounds.

Plastic in our oceans affects creatures large and small. From seabirds, whales, and dolphins, to tiny seahorses that live in coral reefs&hellip &hellip

. and schools of fish that reside on those same reefs and nearby mangroves.

Plastic waste can encourage the growth of pathogens in the ocean. According to a recent study, scientists concluded that corals that come into contact with plastic have an 89 percent chance of contracting disease, compared with a 4 percent likelihood for corals that do not.

Unless action is taken soon to address this urgent problem, scientists predict that the weight of ocean plastics will exceed the combined weight of all of the fish in the seas by 2050.

Simon Reddy directs The Pew Charitable Trusts&rsquo efforts to prevent ocean plastics.

Watch the video: Will the ocean ever run out of fish? - Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Jennifer Jacquet (December 2021).