Long Island shellfish may ingest fewer microplastics, study shows
Researchers from St. Joseph’s University are analyzing the prevalence of microplastics that make their way from packaging products to shellfish in nearby waterways.
The study — an undergraduate senior thesis-turned Marine Pollution Bulletin article — examined eastern oysters and hard clams from local fish markets that source from the Long Island Sound, Great South Bay and Lake Montauk. The study found that the microplastic concentrations in Long Island shellfish are lower than those in other regions, including Virginia and Florida.
“We wanted to sample exactly what a consumer, any general person going to a fish market, what they would be encountering,” said Konstantine Rountos, associate professor of biology at St. Joseph’s, who served as the project’s thesis advisor.
Microplastics are tiny particles of broken down packaging products and waste. The research, primarily authored by students Mackenzie Minder and Isabella Colombo, investigated how much of these particles Long Island shellfish are ingesting.
“The jury is still out on how [microplastics] may actually impact humans,” Rountos added, still noting the importance of examining the environmental impact of products people use.
The study only focused on larger microplastics, due to methodological constraints. Though they are regarded as large, these microplastics are still smaller than a pencil’s point. Some microplastics can be up to 60 times smaller and were unable to be assessed. “It is probably responsible for some of the low concentrations that we saw,” Rountos said.
Further research is continuing to investigate these microscopic particles that weren’t previously included.
“It brings awareness to how much [we] as humans impact the environment,” said lead researcher Mackenzie Minder. “It shows us that we need to be more aware in what we’re doing, like whether it comes down to properly recycling things, seeing how much litter we produce, and how much excess trash we produce, because that ends up in our waters, and just in the wrong places.”
Minder and Colombo are now high school science teachers. Rountos, proud of the impact his students and their research have, said, “We are really making a tangible difference in the next generation and their local understanding.”