All life on earth is dependent on a healthy and safe marine environment. Some experts already realize the extensive nature of pollution and it’s effects on all water systems on the planet after the publishing of a 1988 article by the Marine Pollution Bulletin; Plastic ingestion by petrels breeding in Antarctica. The study found plastic in the stomach of petrels, a species of bird which spends a considerable amount of time breeding in Antarctica, one of the most remote regions on earth, demonstrating the far reaches of pollution. Contaminants are plentiful making it difficult to discern which contaminants to target.
Mercury is a target contaminate to analyze as it creates some of the longest lasting and most wide spreading effects. Mercury is a global problem since it vaporizes and can be easily and rapidly transported by water, air or soil. Mercury is an indestructible element which remains rooted in ecosystems for years. In addition, the effects of this contaminant are highly severe. Methylmercury, which typically is formed when elemental mercury emitted by fossil fuels are absorbed into aquatic estuaries, and become a deadly neurotoxin which is present in almost all sources of protein found in the oceans, especially in elasmobranchs which are apex species. Experts believe further research of mercury pollution will be helpful in protecting humans, discerning solutions to clean the oceans and supporting regrowth and survival of the marine environment. It is essential to understand mercury’s impacts and define new regulatory guidelines to more proactively predict safe consumption which is what this study seeks to achieve via computational models. Mercury is critical to study as there are no safe levels of mercury and no cures for mercury poisoning.
Close to half the world’s population is dependent upon seafood(sharks and fish) as their primary source of protein, placing a significant portion of the population at risk along with the sharks who maintain a critical balance in the global marine environment. If the overarching marine ecosystem is put at risk, then a larger population footprint will be challenged in the future. However, the threat of mercury poisoning is ever present, and with a global presence, the urgency to reduce mercury intake and learn more about its impacts has never been so greater. Human consumption of marine organisms containing high concentrations of MeHg, result in fatalities and irreversible nerve damage (with high levels of consumption). Yet the most predominant effect of mercury has been observed in the fetuses, which is far more vulnerable to MeHg exposure.
Impacts and Analysis
Sharks are apex predators, which sit high in the trophic levels and are significant to maintaining the balance of any marine ecosystem and therefore require scientists to ensure their research minimizes the negative effects on the dwindling population; which experiences over 100 million to 273 million killed annually. Studying sharks as an indicator species will aid in defining the impacts of mercury contamination on the greater ecosystem. To date, many research studies evaluating the impact of mercury on sharks utilizing invasive testing techniques. A few have looked to design predictive models in relation to safe human consumption, but no known research studies have done so using non-invasive techniques. Many elasmobranchs are threatened or endangered. As a scientist, it is essential to identify new ways to assess mercury contamination on a global scale without creating further stressors to sharks.