Research done at the Portaferry Marine Laboratory in Northern Ireland reported that blue mussels lose their grip when they are exposed to micro-plastics, the latest example of the damage plastic pollution can have on marine life. In a controlled experiment, the blue mussels were exposed to non-biodegradable micro-plastics for 52 days. As a result, the mussels, on average, lost about 50% of their power to adhere themselves on surfaces. The reduced strength seems to be because the micro-plastics somehow disrupted the mollusks' ability to produce byssal threads, thin fibers mussels produce that enables them to attach to rocks, ropes, and other environments.
The real danger of plastic pollution is micro-plastics. Micro-plastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long which have already permeated the world's ecosystem and our lives. Studies have shown that micro-plastics were discovered all over the world in places such as tap water, seawater, inside flying insects, and even in human feces.
Why are mussels so important? Mussels are a crucial part of the marine eco-system. If mussels are unable to cling together to form reefs, then they would not be able to shelter other aquatic animals and plants as well. Dannielle Green, a biology professor at Anglia Ruskin University, who led the research, said: “Tenacity is vital for mussels to form and maintain reefs without being dislodged by hydrodynamic forces. A reduction in byssal threads in the wild could lead to cascading impacts on biodiversity as well as reducing yields from aquaculture, as mussels are more likely to be washed away by waves or strong tides.”
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