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Microplastics reduce mussels’ ability to hang on rocks, says study

PUBLISHED: 11:24 31 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:46 01 February 2019

A recent study shows blue mussels that are exposed to microplastics are less able to stay attached to rocks   Pic: Dr Dannielle Green/Anglia Ruskin University

A recent study shows blue mussels that are exposed to microplastics are less able to stay attached to rocks Pic: Dr Dannielle Green/Anglia Ruskin University

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Results of research led by Anglia Ruskin University could have serious implications for ocean ecosystems.

A new study suggests that microplastics are affecting the ability of mussels to attach themselves to their surroundings – potentially having a negative impact on ocean ecosystems as well as a worldwide industry worth billions of pounds.

The new research, led by Dr Dannielle Green of Anglia Ruskin University and carried out at the Portaferry Marine Laboratory in Northern Ireland, found that blue mussels exposed to doses of non-biodegradable microplastics over a period of 52 days produced significantly fewer byssal threads, which are thin fibres that help mussels attach themselves to rocks and ropes.

As well as enabling mussels to survive waves and strong tides, and stay attached to their surroundings, these byssal threads also enable them to form extensive reefs that provide important habitats for other marine animals and plants.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, also found that the overall tenacity or attachment strength of mussels exposed to microplastics, calculated by measuring the maximal vertical force required for the mussel to become dislodged from its position, fell by 50% compared to a control sample of mussels that were not exposed to microplastics.

Dr Green, a senior lecturer in Biology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Tenacity is vital for mussels to form and maintain reefs without being dislodged by hydrodynamic forces.

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