Mercury is a potent toxin that can accumulate to high concentrations in fish, posing a health risk to people who eat large, predatory marine fish such as swordfish and tuna. In the open ocean, the principal source of mercury is atmospheric deposition from human activities, especially emissions from coal-fired power plants and artisanal gold mining. Mercury concentrations in Hawaiian yellowfin tuna are increasing at a rate of 3.8 percent or more per year, according to a new University of Michigan-led study that suggests rising atmospheric levels of the toxin are to blame. And there’s a ‘fake’ solution at hand.
Since 2008, the amount of mercury found in the fish has gone up 3.8% a year, and that trend will probably continue—the amount of the toxic heavy metal in the ocean may double by 2050. But now there may be a good way to start taking it out. The solution: Fake coral. Taking inspiration from the fact that coral is very good at sucking mercury out of ocean water, researchers at Anhui Jianzhu University in China created a synthetic coral that can do the same thing. While mercury is one of the many reasons that real coral are dying, the fake coral can safely suck it up. The key is the curving, lumpy, fold-filled shape of coral, which gives the mercury more places to stick. “In general, adsorbents can remove more pollutants if they have more exposed surface area,” says Xianbiao Wang, one of the researchers that led the new design. The branches of the coral make the surface area larger than something flat or round, while tiny pores draw in pollution.
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