16 May 2011

Mercury levels on the rise in Arctic wildlife especially in predators

For those who eat seafood, exposure to mercury is of concern. It is advised that shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish be avoided all together and that of the seafood that has less mercury, such as shrimp and light canned tuna, only 12 ounces should be consumed per week. This is something that most people can do without a problem and for vegetarians and vegans it's something we don't even think of at all. But what about the animals, like the polar bears, who depend on these foods for survival?

According to a story released by Huffpost Green, there is concern that levels of mercury are rising in the Arctic wildlife, particularly predators. You may remember back in high school ecology a little something about how toxins in an ecosystem follow a system called biological magnification in which the animals in the top trophic level have the highest concentration of any toxin in the ecosystem. Too sciency for you? Suffice it to say that when the little guy gets ahold of some mercury and then a bigger guy eats the little guy the mercury is transfered and increases. This continues until the biggest guy eats the the second biggest guy and wham! Side effects.

The predators, those in the highest trophic levels, are those that will alert us to toxins and other imbalances in an ecosystem. The US Geological Survey and the EPA sight possible side effects of mercury poisoning to be eating disorders, limb paralysis, loss of appetite and reproductive failure. The animals most at risk are the seals, polar bears and whales of the regions around Greenland and Arctic Canada.

This week the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) held a conference in Copenhagen where they released their study entitled "Arcitic Pollution 2011" to a group of 400 scientists and experts in the field.

Issues of concern? While several regions such as Russia, North America and Europe are cutting back on their contribution to the release of toxins, levels of mercury in the animals close to some of these regions continues to climb. China, the worlds number one producer of mercury pollution though, may be offsetting other nations' efforts. And if nothing is done to check the growth, global mercury emissions could grow as much as 25 percent by 2020.

To make matters worse there is evidence to suggest that the melting ice caps in the Arctic could exacerbate this problem by releasing mercury that has been lurking in the permafrost for centuries.

These reports and concerns will be discussed this coming week at the Arctic Council with representatives from many major nations. Representing the US will be Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

It is clear though, that more research will need to be done and much will need to be discussed as the animals most at risk, the polar bears, whales and seals, are only a small part of a delicate ecosystem.

Lacey Walker | @quinoaween
Lacey is a food photographing, French speaking, English teaching, travel enthusiast. She's been known to cut a rug. She's also been known to spend all day in bed eating vegan waffles and talking to her cat Hibou. Follow Lacey on her blog and Flickr.

Photo Credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/38485387@N02