Pioneering work by British scientists at Plymouth Marine Laboratory looks set to place the mussel at the heart of a novel pollution monitoring system for the North Sea.
Action to develop a consistent, comparable system that could be operated by Britain, Norway, Sweden and France was one of the key recommendations at last week's North Sea conference in Denmark.
After 20 years' of research PML believes it has sufficient data to show that mussels could be used to monitor pollutants accurately. A typical mussel extracts food and chemicals from the average three to four litres of water it passes over its body per hour, said PML's Peter Donkins. Since they do not degrade chemicals easily through metabolic function the level of concentration of chemicals in mussels can be accurately measured. "This accumulation of chemicals is directly related to the adverse effects on mussel growth," he added.
PML is currently looking for government backing for a project to look into calibration of a mussel-based pollution monitoring system across the North Sea states.