Jittery Fish: How Caffeine is Infiltrating the Pacific

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Caffeine found in sea water in Oregon

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More bad news for the world’s oceans.

Coast to coast, we Canadians love our coffee. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we sit above Seattle – the home of Starbucks and another major site for bean fiends.

But our bodies eventually dispose of all the caffeine we ingest and as it turns out, a lot of the drug is seeping into the oceans through our waste. National Geographic recently reported that although the effects of this caffeinated infiltration are yet unknown, it’s another aspect of pollution we need to investigate and consider when thinking about the preservation of marine life and ecosystems.

image via 7bigspoons.com

Scientists off the coast of Oregon have found “surprisingly high” levels of caffeine in some areas of water; mostly more remote, where water was caffeinated to the extent of 45 nanograms per liter. (As opposed to 9 nanograms per liter in more densely populated or polluted areas, such as near sewage systems—accounted for by more stringent monitoring standards in these parts.)


Caffeine found in sea water in Oregon
via National Geographic

If that sounds high, keep in mind that Oregon is a state that maintains quite high standards for sustainability and low levels of waste. In Boston, Harbour seawater caffeine concentration levels were found to exist up to 1600 nanograms per liter!

“Sewage influent and effluent concentrations appear to be consistent with consumption estimates of caffeinated beverages for the Boston area and total organic carbon removal targets for treated sewage.” (PubMed, for Medline)

“And while the idea of an over-excited school of fish or a neurotic, fast-talking crab might seem funny, the discovery of these high levels of caffeine is cause for concern.” (George Stroumboulopoulos for CBC.ca)

Caffeine isn’t the only culprit contaminated the seas. Scientists have long been warning about the growing amounts of hormones and other chemicals in the oceans and our water supply, caused in part by people dumping unused medication into sewage systems.

In 2010 National Geographic reported that a team of researchers in Washington, D.C. found, among other surprises: cocaine and spices in the drinking water.

“Keil and his team have tracked “pulses” of food ingredients that enter the sound during certain holidays. For instance, thyme and sage spike during Thanksgiving, cinnamon surges all winter, chocolate and vanilla show up during weekends (presumably from party-related goodies), and waffle-cone and caramel-corn remnants skyrocket around the Fourth of July.” (National Geographic)

Think before you drink.

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