Sick Lobsters: A Message in a Plastic Bottle
Hans Laufer, a professor at the University of Connecticut, has spent the last four years investigating the link between the plastic byproducts, called alkyphenols, and shell rot.
In recent years, the disease has become an epidemic in Long Island Sound (located between Connecticut and Long Island, N.Y.) affecting up to 70 per cent of some lobster populations at its peak.
"There seems to be a direct relationship between plastic compound breakdown and shell disease," Laufer said.
The alkyphenols are absorbed into the lobster's bloodstream and inhibit the chemicals that keep the shell hard, which makes them more susceptible to bacteria and other infections that eat away at the shell.
"The lobsters try to molt out of the old shell," Laufer said.
"If it's just mild enough, they recover. If it's serious, of course, it kills them."
Although plastics can eventually disintegrate in water, they aren't biodegradable.
The chemicals remain in the water and are eaten or absorbed by marine species.
Laufer adds that lobster aren't the only creatures harmed by the compounds.
"There is evidence that some of these compounds get into fish, and they will reverse the sex of the fish. You can sometimes find fish populations that are maybe five per cent male," Laufer said. "I think it's kind of scary."
The shell rot problem is not the same as the lobster die off that happened in 1999 and is apparently happening again this year. Since 1999, the industry has fallen on hard times. There were 746 licensed lobstermen in