Mercury on the Rise in Oceans

Atussa Kian, Staff Writer

In spite of being one of the most toxic metals on Earth, and a top ten threat to public health, mercury still presents itself as undoubtedly beautiful. Like silver pearl beads on a necklace, the metal shines, reflecting its surroundings with its breathtaking chrome-like exterior. In the olden days, mercury’s bright red ore was used as lacquer by the Chinese, and makeup by Roman women. But other facts bring a different side of the metal to light. Capable of causing nervous system damage, mental impairment in children, and paralysis, the metal is commonly found in fish.

Children under 16, and women planning to be or who are pregnant should be cautious of the amount of seafood (particularly shark, swordfish, and tuna) that they consume already. Lately, mercury’s threat level has increased significantly, according to a group of Swedish researchers. As a result of climate change and its rising temperatures, mercury in fish could be boosted by seven times the current rate due to heat.

This boost of mercury in the environment is anything but sudden. It’s growth can be observed ever since the Industrial Revolution.

The study was done in a large laboratory where researchers replicated the conditions of a Bothnian sea estuary. Quickly, they realized that the higher the heat, the more organic matter was released into the water. This, in turn, would produce higher levels of methylmercury in zooplankton, a fundamental link in the food chain. “This work experimentally proves that climate will have significant effect of methylmercury budgets in coastal water and its concentrations in fish,” stated Milena Horvats from the Jozef Stefan Institute of Slovenia.

The revelations uncovered by this group of researchers is important for the very reason that it opens our eyes to the effects man can have on the natural balance of the environment and our habitat.