VICTORIA — A scientific study that found high levels of microplastics in the ocean near British Columbia’s primary shellfish farms has scientists calling for more research to assess the impact of the pollution on the industry.
The study from Simon Fraser University’s department of biological sciences recommends a deeper look into the extent that shellfish ingest microbeads, microfibres and microfragments after the plastics were found near oyster farms off eastern Vancouver Island.
The report, published Wednesday in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, said evidence of microplastics was found at 16 sites that were tested in the Baynes Sound and Lambert Channel areas, which are home to about 50 per cent of the province’s shellfish farms.
“Our findings have shown that B.C.’s premier oyster growing region is highly contaminated with microplastics, particularly microbeads,” the 16-page report concluded. “It would be prudent to assess the degree to which oysters from the region are ingesting microplastics.”
The report said sources of the microplastics in the area include the shellfish industry and possibly towns near the Comox Estuary.
Assessments of the impact microplastics have on the shellfish could help the industry and protect the health of oysters, clams and mussels in Canada and worldwide, the report concluded.
“People are just realizing what has happened with plastics in the ocean,” Prof. Leah Bendell, the report’s co-author, said in an interview. Bendell is an ecotoxicologist and has been studying the Baynes Sound area for 20 years.
“We’re in a crisis situation where we just have to stop putting plastics in the ocean. Zero tolerance.”
Bendell said annual volunteer clean-up efforts along the shoreline off Baynes Sound regularly collect up to five tonnes of plastic waste from the area’s shellfish farms, including plastic pipes, cages and ropes.
A spokesman for B.C.’s shellfish industry said reducing plastic pollution should be a global goal, but B.C. oyster farms and its consumers are not under threat from microplastics.
“You are much more likely to get microplastics in beer, in honey, in bottled water,” said Stephen Pocock, president of the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association.
He said he supported efforts to reduce the use of microbeads including in shower gels, facial scrubs and toothpaste. Pocock, who operates a shellfish farm near Quadra Island, about 100 kilometres north of Baynes Sound, said the amounts of microplastics found in oysters appear to be minuscule.
The association is expecting the release of a two-year study of microplastics and shellfish, he said.
The association said the microplastics study was conducted by scientists at the University of Victoria and received funding from the group and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Bendell said oysters and clams serve as the ocean’s filters and the effect of the increased presence of microplastics must be determined.
“We’re just on the cusp of figuring out how bad this really is,” she said.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press