*may contain some plastic bits

The Rise of Plastic in Seafood

Unless you have been living in a cave with “Wilson” as your only mate, you would have surely heard about the huge issue that is plaguing Earth – plastic waste. Particularly single-use plastics, which make up a large percentage of the annual production of plastic globally.

Unfortunately, according to a 2015 study, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea each year. It is also widely thought that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans! Yes, you read that correctly – unless something is done in your or your children’s lifetime, this could be the grim reality.

The old saying “Out of sight, out of mind” means that lots of people overlook or simply don’t pay attention to an array of marine problems, such as fishing methods (bottom trawling, longline), overfishing and the pollution of the oceans, to name a few. Now, with the rise of plastics being detected in seafood (particularly mussels, oysters and other shellfish), it may still be out of sight but not the mind. Even more so, in this day and age, where there is a big focus on healthy eating and understanding what is actually in our food.

Microplastics, tiny debris from plastic bags, bottles and clothing - ranging from 10 nanometres to five milometres - is the main reason plastic is ending up in our seafood. Plastic generally does not biodegrade, but it can be broken down into these tiny fragments. The issue is that these micro- and nanoplastics look like food to a wide variety of marine species, from tiny zooplankton to the mighty whale. From a food perspective, admittedly, the majority of plastic is found in the stomachs of these animals, which are usually removed before the cooking process (with the exception of shellfish and some small fish eaten whole). However, studies are showing that it may be possible for some nanoplastics to transfer to the meat (flesh) or that there may be some contamination due to toxins in the plastics consumed.

If it is not bad enough that marine animals are dying because of pollution (in 2008 a dead sperm whale was found with 205 kg of fish nets, plastic and other synthetic debris inside it, which caused either a blockage in its digestive tract or its stomach to rupture), plastic may now be contaminating what is a vital food source for billions of people.

Underwater Cleanup

While research is ongoing as to the health implications for humans, it is estimated that Europeans consume approximately 11,000 pieces of plastic in their food each year. While 99% will pass through the human body, the rest is absorbed. Little is known about the effects, but over time these tiny bits of plastic will accumulate in our tissues and I think most people will agree that this can’t be good!

Unless something is done, marine pollution will only get worse, which in turn will increase the amount of plastic entering the food chain via seafood. Together, we as humans can help fight this plague and, on the whole, I think most people would prefer their salad nicoise “sans plastique”.

Article by Orca Scuba Instructor Matt Headen: Book a dive trip to Rawa Island now by contacting us on [email protected]