SFU study finds waters at major B.C. shellfish farming region polluted with microplastics

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      SFU researchers are calling for action to be taken after their study determined that the waters of a major B.C. shellfish farming area are contaminated with microplastics.

      The study by the SFU Ecotoxicology Research Group, was published today (May 23) in the science journal PLOS One.

      The research team analyzed sediment samples from 16 sites in Lambert Channel and Baynes Sound around Denman Island (which is located off the east coast of Vancouver Island) to determine the presence of microplastics.

      Approximately 130 shellfish farms are located are located in the region, with 80 percent of them devoted to oysters and the remaining 20 percent for scallops.

      The Department of Fisheries designated the area around Denman Island as an Ecologically Biologically Sensitive Area that is a habitat for migratory birds and a marine pathway for orcas.

      Microplastics, including microbeads, fragments, and fibres, were found present at all locations, revealing widespread contamination.

      “We found microbeads in the smallest bits of sediment and in a concentration equal to the amounts of silt and organic matter,” SFU marine ecology and ecotoxicology professor Bendell stated in a news release.

      Bendell also explained that microbeads and plastics are also potential sources of toxic metals in food chains because they absorb trace metals.

      The researchers noted in the study that previous studies have found that the consumption of microplastics by shellfish negatively impacts their reproductive and overall health.

      This map from the SFU study indicates the sites of greatest concentration of microbeads.

      Bendell, who has studied the area for almost 20 years, said that during the island's annual beach cleanup, about three to five tonnes of debris, primarily made of plastic, are collected.

      “While there is also contamination from urban sources, 90 percent of these plastics can be attributed to shellfish farms,” Bendell stated.

      In the study, the largest number of micro fragments and microfibers were found in areas of extensive shellfish aquaculture equipment. Bendell explained that the shellfish industry uses high-density polyethylene (HDPE) for nets, oyster bags, trays, cages, and fences.

      Bendell is calling for the shellfish industry to address the problem, and recommends further studies to examine the consumption of these shellfish by humans and other organisms.