Neglected species of filter-feeding creatures that can purify our water and feed a billion people.

in StemSocial6 months ago

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There's a potential revolution starter simmering in pots all around the world right now. Most of us have eaten it at some point, yet it's often ignored as a nutritional staple. It is estimated that almost a billion of the world's poorest people might have their nutritional needs met by consuming this natural protein source. It has the potential to compete favorably with beef and other highly cultivated meats. The benefits to society and the environment are numerous.

The animals used to produce this meal don't need any special care or attention on the farmer's part, thus they aren't fed or given any antibiotics or pesticides. Furthermore, they engage in the process of sequestering carbon. Even more impressively, they can help preserve delicate ecosystems by purifying the water in which they thrive. We would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the wonderful yet unglamorous world of bivalves.

The biological aspect of our ocean's ecology does not capture the attention in the same way that fish do or captivate the way that a deep-sea octopus does. However, it embraces the evolutionary lower family of shell-dwelling organisms, including mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops. These mollusks live in shells. These hinge-shelled mollusks have secretly taken up residence at the lower levels of the food chain as filter feeders. They can maintain their bodies by feeding on the tiny organic stuff that is present in the waters of their local area.

Such inferior standing, on the other hand, almost certainly indicates that their value has been grossly disregarded. As the world strives to discover methods of feeding a rising population while having less of an impact on the environment, many experts feel that we may need to increase the proportion of our diet that consists of shellfish such as these.
Willer says that eating meat and fish is worse for the environment than eating plants. But compared to other types of farming, bivalve aquaculture has a much smaller impact on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and freshwater use. As more and more people point to the carbon footprint of making feed and fertilizer and the methane emissions of animals as major contributors to global warming, consumers are being forced to rethink how they choose what to put in their bodies.

There is a lot of evidence for this. Willer says that raising a ton of beef for people to eat is the same as making 340 tons of CO2 emissions, but raising a ton of bivalve mollusks is only the same as making 11 tons of CO2 emissions. These numbers are averages for the whole world, so they don't take into account the many different ways that cattle can be raised for meat. But it's not just cattle. Salmon, which is one of the most popular fish in developed countries, needs five kilograms of wild fish feed for every kilogram of salmon that is caught.

It has been estimated that 16.3 million tons of CO2 emissions might be averted yearly, or over half of New Zealand's annual emissions, if just 25% of this "carnivorous fish" aquaculture was replaced with an equivalent quantity of protein from bivalve aquaculture.

The Eutrophication Potential and Ecosystem Service Value of these filter feeders are the next items on our checklist of advantages offered by bivalves. These are fairly incomprehensible terms for some very appetizing benefits.

When fertilizers are poured into waterways, it can lead to eutrophication, which is characterized by a rise of potentially harmful algal growth known as an "algal bloom." If fertilizers used in agriculture are swept away by rain or groundwater, or if effluent from factories and cities seeps into the soil, it may make its way into rivers. It is easier for algae to immediately benefit from this phosphorus explosion, and they quickly began to spread across the surface of the water as a result. In severe circumstances, this has a detrimental effect on the aquatic ecology by obstructing the sun's rays, which causes other plants to perish, and by causing creatures to perish because oxygen levels fall.

It's easy to see how rapidly they can make a difference, as a marine biologist and University of Plymouth professor Antony Knights put it: "Each mussel can filter 1.75 liters of saltwater every hour, and given that they colonize at a density of roughly 500 mussels per meter squared."

The problem of eutrophication at Liverpool Docks was remedied without any ecologically damaging action, he says, thanks to the reintroduction of mussels and the frequent re-opening of the floodgates.

To paraphrase what Knights has to say about mussels and other bivalves providing ecosystem services, "this is a fantastic example of mussels delivering ecosystem services."
Mussels play a crucial role as "ecosystem engineers" in marine ecosystems, which means they are vital to the health of the system as a whole. He explains that the reefs formed by these organisms provide a haven for marine life such as barnacles, seaweeds, and fish fry.

Eutrophication Potential is a standardized way to quantify the degree to which certain activities are harmful to waterways. This is because eutrophication is a significant global problem. The question now is, how do bivalves fare? In contrast to farmed fish, they have a detrimental influence on the environment because they consume all of the surplus algae and other organic particles that clean up the streams and seas. The presence of bivalves in waterways is beneficial for preventing the harmful consequences of eutrophication.

In 2010, when eutrophication of the harbor waters developed as a result of the flood gates remaining shut as a result of the recession of the Manchester Ship Canal, this was put to wonderful use to tackle a stinking issue that had arisen in the Liverpool Docks in the United Kingdom.

It's easy to see how rapidly they can make a difference, as marine biologist and University of Plymouth professor Antony Knights put it: "Each mussel can filter 1.75 liters of saltwater every hour, and given that they colonize at a density of roughly 500 mussels per meter squared."

He writes, "The algal blooms in Liverpool Docks were removed and the problem of eutrophication was treated without any ecologically damaging intervention by returning mussels and the frequent re-opening of the floodgates."

To paraphrase what Knights has to say about mussels and other bivalves providing ecosystem services, "this is a fantastic example of mussels delivering ecosystem services."

In addition to their obvious economic value, mussels play a crucial role in marine habitats as "ecosystem engineers," boosting biodiversity. According to him, "the reefs that they make establish breeding sites for other ocean creatures to colonize and utilize, such as breeding grounds for fish." This includes barnacles, seaweeds, and other forms of marine life.

This ecosystem service is being utilized on a global scale through the World Harbour Project. This is an effort to increase the biodiversity of empty harbor walls around the world by bringing bivalve colonies. These colonies, therefore, provide residence for many other organisms in addition to the advantages they bring along with their filtration behavior.

Within this is, however, the ecological double-edged sword that is bivalves. Due to their filter-feeding nature, they absorb all the contaminants in the water, good and bad, which is problematic given the unorthodox manner in which we consume them.

Rachel Hartnell, a seafood safety specialist at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science in the United Kingdom, states, "Essentially they take on the features of the environment in which they grow" (Cefas). This means that they have the potential to magnify the concentration of chemicals, poisons, and microorganisms already present in the water (such as those introduced by sewage or agricultural runoff). Hartnell warns that this can be dangerous for human health because of how frequently people consume bivalves in their raw or minimally cooked forms, along with the rest of the animals. As a result, "we need to identify the dangers, assess the harm, and guarantee that plans are in place to control any risks before the product reaches the customer."

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The high export value of bivalves relative to more conventional fish species means they pose a danger that must be mitigated before they can make a substantial contribution to better nutrition and the improvement of GDP in poor economies. Since most aquaculture farms are situated along the shore, bivalve farming can help advance gender equality in coastal communities by providing women with employment opportunities in the industry. In contrast to the male-dominated industry of offshore fishing, this means women can pursue careers that allow them to earn money while still caring for their children.

Because of the possible economic benefits, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are working together to promote bivalve farming to more vulnerable nations through training programs with Cefas. Esther Garrido Gamarro, a fisheries officer with the FAO located in Rome, notes that this is being done because of the potential economic benefits.

In November 2019, her team held a workshop on bivalve sanitation for 15 African countries. "We piloted joint FAO-WHO advice on bivalve sanitation initiatives in Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Namibia," she explains. For the countries in Asia and the Pacific that have yet to invest in this industry, we want to do the same this year.

There is a constructive approach to dealing with the reality that we eat whatever bivalves eat. Willer and his study collaborator, David Aldridge, devised a method to transform bivalves into a nutritional powerhouse that may be used to combat malnutrition.

"We developed a method of encapsulating nutrients in a diet that is appealing to bivalves," explains Willer. After only eight hours, vitamin A and D tissue levels were significantly increased in oysters fed 3% vitamin A and D microcapsules. Consuming just two of these vitamin-rich bivalves satisfies the recommended daily allowances for both vitamin A and vitamin D in the human diet.

Willer notes that "almost two billion people worldwide are micronutrient deficient," and that expanding this technique to additional bivalve species, such as clams and mussels, might provide a low-cost and highly sustainable mechanism to help address this worldwide problem.

About 1.5 million square kilometers (579,000 square miles) of coastline exist worldwide that are ideal for cultivating bivalve shellfish. Willer claims that even if only 1% of this were developed, it would provide enough bivalves to satisfy the protein needs of over a billion people.

While the prospect of using these filter-feeding creatures in the kitchen may make some people uncomfortable, I think it's time we gave them another look. The fact that they are also nutritious and even empowering is reason enough to give them another shot, much alone the fact that they are good for the environment. The potential of this seemingly little group of animals is enormous.
In conclusion, this seemingly little group of animals holds tremendous promise.

That brings us to the conclusion. I want to express my gratitude to you for taking the time to read this post, and I pray that God will richly reward you.


Julia Westbrook and Lauren Wicks. “How Your Food Choices Can Help Fight Climate Change | EatingWell.” EatingWell, March 18, 2022. References

Lovell, Rachel. “The Simple Food That Fights Climate Change.” The simple food that fights climate change. Accessed October 4, 2022.

Robbins, Ocean. “Food and Climate Change: The Best & Worst Foods For The Planet.” Food Revolution Network, August 31, 2021.

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The one disadvantage of shellfish is that they contain the toxins that they filter out. e.g. if the water is high in mercury, then the shellfish are high in mercury.

The biggest fear is with red tide which can produce a neuro-toxin. The key to promoting shellfish is rigorous testing and reporting on the health of the critters.

I read once that it depends of the shellfishes, for example oysters don't grow in polluted waters, different from most of mussels

Yes, you're right

Thank you for stopping by. Science is teasing daily to show how safe this species are before consumption. But like you said, individuals must be extremely careful to know how their source.

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You certainly do cover a subject thoroughly. There is an amazing amount of information here, almost all of it new to me. I've always been suspicious of bivalves because they do filter everything. I think of them as dirty and disease-bearing. But a bivalve farm, as you describe it, would be a solution to this problem.

A wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing all this information.

I'm glad this pieces of information gave you some useful insights. And between, I got noticed of the tip you sent to me, I'm very grateful for that. Thank you so much

This is super interesting! Really! I didn't imagine the potential of mollusks both in terms of nutrients and ecology. We should however be careful in order not to get invaded. Otherwise, the risks may outweigh the benefits. In short, I partly disagree with the following sentence:

this meal don't need any special care or attention on the farmer's part

We need to pay attention to keep the culture under control, don't we?

While the prospect of using these filter-feeding creatures in the kitchen may make some people uncomfortable, I think it's time we gave them another look.

I am... especially after reading @irivers' comment... We should better know where they come from, and what they have been used for, before eating them.

yeah I just mentioned one example of mollusk invasion in my reply to you lol!

Definitely! I had this in mind (I remember what I read ;) ).

Believe me, not everyone would want to get the info concerning where they come from before eating it, for instance here in Nigeria, as far as it is affordable, consumers are comfortable buying them without any concerns

Bloody humans... Note that it is probably not specific to Nigeria. I can say the same for local people here. :D

hehe, it is obtainable

Mussels grow everywhere depending of the species! But I love to eat all of them :p

Wow, here in my state, it is like a gold to get them in the market because its kind of scarce but I don't fall to eat them when I have the opportunity 😅

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