Pollution in the ocean is increasing, that much we know, but the sheer volume of items categorized as “pollution” is overwhelming. One way to better break down the problem is by identifying the unique contributors based on geographic region. Classifying contamination by area can help us decipher which species are being affected by what types of pollution. By focusing efforts on one species, scientists can make inferences and connections about similar effects on animals in the surrounding ecosystem. Researchers at the University of Southampton have begun doing their part by analyzing British waters, utilizing the isotopic composition of one animal: jellyfish.
The research team used the chemical variations in jellyfish from several areas to map differences in environmental chemistry. Since so many other animals feed on jellyfish, the same chemical identifiers are present throughout the food chain, including seabirds, seals, and fish. With this information, there is potential to trace the location, feeding grounds, and movement of local marine animals, thereby providing better support for local conservation efforts.
Another purpose of this tracing information is to help prevent food fraud, the intentional deception of consumers through mislabeling, misrepresentation, or misbranding of food. Certain regulations and labels are in place to verify that seafood is properly, ethically, and/or sustainably sourced. By preventing food adulteration, authorities can ensure that these regulations are followed, and consumers can be confident that they are making ecologically friendly choices. Distinguishing chemical identifiers may become increasingly more important when trying to manage our marine resources more effectively.
In our ever-changing environmental circumstances, it is likely that political authorities will need more impenetrable methods to managing our marine environment. This information may prove essential to better understanding not only the marine habitat but also the organisms that live there.
Are you familiar with any of your local marine conservation efforts?