Redressing the Overlooked Threat of Pollutants to Marine Invertebrates

Nothing sells an environmental campaign more effectively than an association with a charismatic animal. Whether it be a dolphin, penguin or kitten makes little difference - we're all suckers for a pretty face. Tim Verslycke, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, thinks this may be why we've largely overlooked the plight of close to 95% of species in the ocean - the invertebrates.

Indeed, while we are often moved to action when we hear of a pesticide adversely affecting seals or dolphins, we tend to gloss over news of chemical spills if they don't directly harm these species - even if they do affect many of the crustaceans we otherwise love (to eat). And, says Verslycke, this is all too often the case: because many invertebrates use the same hormones to perform biological functions, a chemical designed to, say, inhibit a hormone regulating development in mosquitoes could just as easily do the same in a crab, if not worse.Often times, these chemicals don't affect vertebrates - making it easy for watchdogs and policymakers to pay less attention to them.

"These pesticides are hardly toxic or effective in vertebrates, because vertebrates don't have these hormones. What we've been able to show, however, is that they are very effective against other non-targeted animals that do have these hormones, such as crustaceans and other coastal invertebrate populations. The fact that most invertebrates use the same hormones to regulate very different processes makes it a bigger problem," said Verslycke.

This problem is especially of concern to individuals living in areas near coastal waters. The enormous amounts of conventional pesticides that make their way to estuaries and, eventually, the oceans through agricultural and urban runoff sources have the potential to disrupt the life cycles of many important fish and crustacean species.

Verslycke is helping to develop a series of new invertebrate-based assays to detect harmful levels of chemicals in the water. He is also working with the EPA on its Endocrine Disruption Screening Program - a program designed to test for the toxic effects of specific chemicals. "As a society, people are generally a little more worried about things that directly affect humans. So it's a little harder to get funding to look at effects in some obscure marine copepod species rather than studying similar effects in humans," he noted.

Via ::Oceanus: Are Pollutants Disrupting Marine Ecosystems? (magazine)

See also: ::Will A Global Network Of Marine Reserves Reverse Troubling Trends In The Sea?, ::Ocean Motion: California Paddle Points At Pollution, ::Sailing the Seven Seas to Study Garbage

Tags: EPA | New England

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