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New study makes alarming find about over 90% of world's seafood supply: 'Limited attention has been paid'

Major producers in Asia and the United States face the greatest threats.

Major producers in Asia and the United States face the greatest threats.

Photo Credit: iStock

The effects of human-caused pollution represent a threat to all life on our planet, but time and time again, marine life has shown to be especially vulnerable. Now, a new study shows that an alarming 90% of the world's seafood supply — a significant food source for billions of people worldwide — is at risk due to pollution.

What is happening?

The study, titled "Vulnerability of blue foods to human-induced environmental change," was published recently in the Nature Sustainability journal. The term "blue food" refers to the more than 2,500 species of marine life that sustain 3.2 billion people across the globe.

According to the study's authors, "Despite the growing concerns over their environmental impacts, limited attention has been paid to how blue food production is influenced by anthropogenic environmental changes … Over 90% of global blue food production faces substantial risks from environmental change, with the major producers in Asia and the United States facing the greatest threats."

These environmental threats include rising sea levels, rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, algal blooms, and other pollution caused by fertilizers, waste, and other chemicals that find their way into water supplies.

Why is this concerning?

The study's author went on to explain that the threats to blue foods include not only the quantity available but also the quality, i.e., food safety of the fish and other marine species that many people eat. 

These issues include non-native bacteria introduced by humans, indigenous bacteria introduced by changing weather patterns, as well as things like mercury, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), pesticides, and antibiotics present in seafood in large quantities.

Pollution not only means that food will become more scarce, it also means that the food we do have will become more unhealthy and hazardous to consume.

What can be done about it?

According to Ling Cao, a professor at China's Xiamen University, who co-authored the paper, countries need to take more responsibility for causing environmental harm to marine life — she pointed to a recent United Nations global high seas biodiversity pact as a step in the right direction.

Cao also pointed to ocean floor mining as a potentially very destructive practice, saying that countries planning it should reconsider based on the harm it can do. "Many scientists are now calling on governments to evaluate where they do ocean mining in order to minimize the impact," she said.

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