Ocean Plastics Are Dampening Oyster Sex

Mollusks can't distinguish the floating bits from plankton. It's a real mood-killer.

Getty Images

Oysters are struggling to reproduce, and it’s all our fault. When we release plastic into the ocean, it breaks down and resembles plankton, oysters’ favorite food. The marine mollusks then digest the plastic, which, according to a new study, makes it hard for them to produce strong sperm and eggs, the essential ingredients of all new, baby oysters.

When ocean-going plastics reach the 6-micrometer size, oysters have almost no ability to separate them from plankton, and absorb as much as 69 percent of the particles. Females oysters exposed to high levels of the plastic produced 38 percent fewer eggs, while male oysters pumped out sperm that was 23 percent slower.

The stuff of aphrodisiacs, it ain’t. The study attributes the dismal reproductive rates to oysters expelling a greater share of their energy just to deal with the plastic, leaving them simply too tired for baby-making.

Almost all plastic that humans eject into the ocean will decay into these micro-fragments that become dangerous to marine life such as oysters. Unfortunately, the problem only seems to be getting worse, with a recent study predicting that the world’s oceans will contain as much plastic as fish by weight in 2050.

A recent report drew attention to the impact of plastic production on the environment. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

That’s a lot whole of faux-plankton for oysters to consume in the long run. In case we needed another vulnerable population to protect from ourselves, oysters may be facing some serious copulative concerns if we don’t clean up our act.

Related Tags