Mussels Can Naturally Rid Our Oceans of Microplastics—Here's How

Filtering out debris and waste from the oceans is an ongoing task, as it's essential to help the environment and the creatures that live within it. However, one oceanic species could actually be the leading force behind the cleaning, tackling the problem from within. According to the Good News Network, mussels can help filter microplastics less than five millimeters in size by absorbing and then excreting them, without any harm to the mollusks.

mussels growing on rock at beach
mussels growing on rock at beach

Smiling In Sonoma / Getty Images

These mini pieces of plastic usually stem from tire wear, debris, and textiles that make their way in the ocean through sewers. Since microplastics are so fine in size, it's difficult to filter them before they land in oceans. Andrea Bennett, a biologist at the Environmental Protection Agency, believes that an adult mussel can filter 15 gallons of water water every day. In turn, a six-mile collective of mussels could help rid 25 tons of particles from oceans each year.

Related: Researchers Have Found Microscopic Plastic Particles Deep in the Ocean

An experiment by Plymouth Marine Laboratory explored a trial that put 300 mussels in a flow tank and fed them phytoplankton and microplastics. In total, the mollusks gathered about 25 percent of the microplastics in the water (nearly 250,000 pieces each hour). The microplastics were then found in their excretions, which the research team said could be used for biofuel based on the carbon makeup.

"The trials so far have been extremely promising and we're very excited about the positive impact systems like these could potentially have on estuarine areas, particularly in places where microplastics might accumulate such as marinas, harbors, or near wastewater treatment works," said Professor Pennie Lindeque, the head of science, marine ecology and biodiversity, in a press release. "This has been a really exciting experiment, because we always hoped that mussels would have the capacity to filter out microplastics, but they do it really well, and they do it without harming themselves," Lindeque says.