Improving human mental health is having some serious unintended consequences for our friends in the ocean.
Exposure to antidepressants makes shrimp five times more likely to place themselves in life-threatening situations.
Exposure to the antidepressant fluoxetine causes shrimp to radically alter their behavior. While normal shrimp are more likely to avoid swimming towards light because it's often associated with prey like birds or fishermen, those exposed to fluoxetine become five times more likely to swim towards light than away from it. That change in behavior places them in harm's way, and if enough shrimp are exposed to the antidepressant the entire population could be at risk.
Alex Ford, a marine biologist at the UK's University of Portsmouth, explains how that can reverberate throughout the oceanic ecosystem and why this is a serious concern:
"Crustaceans are crucial to the food chain and if shrimps' natural behaviour is being changed because of antidepressant levels in the sea this could seriously upset the natural balance of the ecosystem. Much of what humans consume you can detect in the water in some concentration. We're a nation of coffee drinkers and there is a huge amount of caffeine found in waste water, for example. It's no surprise that what we get from the pharmacy will also be contaminating the country's waterways"
Yes, it aint easy being a shrimp... and with all the oil in the gulf, those shrimp are going to need all the antidepressants they can get.
Thanks for this story Jim.
We'll be keeping a close eye out for local suicidal shrimp behaviour.