We’ll Have Toxic Mussels Thanks To Climate Change


Mussels will become toxic within the next century after climate change raises the temperatures of oceans. A study has revealed that in water that is only 36 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, mussels, oysters and other popular shellfish will be inedible.

How it will happen

It is foreseen that sea temperatures will rise markedly in this time, massively altering marine habitats. Rainfall, too, will increase, lessening the salt concentration of the surface of seas. The timing and duration of monsoon seasons in particular has also been impacted by climate change, further decreasing seawater salinity.

The researchers, from Sweden’s Gothenburg University, reported that these changes would drastically influence the bacteria and plankton that reside in seawater. Conditions will favour bacteria that cause disease and plankton that are more toxic. Badness can build up in shellfish, which churn through gallons of water a day, giving us toxic mussels which endanger those who consume them.

The team looked at the green mussel industry of southwest India from the point of view of the Mangalore coast. They raised mussels in conditions of high temperature and low salt and exposed them to toxic plankton and bacteria. Dr Lucy Turner, the lead investigator, remarked that the harsher environment put mussels’ bodies under more stress than usual, which could compromise their immune systems. Dr Turner advised that the Indian government closely monitor the quality of coastal water. The shellfish industry is inchoate but growing rapidly.

Struck down by toxic mussels

The first people in the United States to be sickened by toxic mussels were the Williford family in summer 2011. They had been camping on the Olympic Peninsula near Washington, DC. There, they were delighted to come upon shellfish which they cooked with garlic and oregano. John Williford proclaimed, “Oh, they were amazing. I was, like, wow, these are pretty much the best mussels I have ever eaten.” His wife, Jaycee, agreed wholeheartedly.

Then, the Willifords’ daughters, two-year-old Jessica and five-year-old Jaycee, fell sick. Jacki exclaimed, “They just were so violently ill.” Their parents shortly followed. Jacki was sure that toxic mussels were responsible, so she called the health department. This was the United States’ first instance of diarrhetic shellfish poisoning, a condition that arises after ingesting a toxin produced by a large form of algae named dinophysis, which has been present in the waters of the northwest for decades, but never to a toxic degree.

About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

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