It is said
that every creature on earth has a purpose. Scientists and fishers alike have
been dubious about the usefulness of the green crab (carcinus maenas), whose
sole purpose seems to be wreaking havoc on Newfoundland sea populations,
unchecked by natural predators. The green crab, native to Europe, was
inadvertently introduced to the east coast of North America in 1990s via the
bilge water of a container ship. It is small and vicious, and because of its
size offers little utility in the way of cuisine.
“Green crab are invading sea
area habitats where traditionally snow crab, lobster and other ground fish
species are harvested,” said Dr. Don-Roger Parkinson, a professor of chemistry at
Grenfell Campus. “On this
side of the ocean, green crab have no predator species to keep their
populations in check. The green crab species multiplies quite quickly, is
very voracious and it outcompetes and causes harm to many other commercially
important fish species.”
Dr. Parkinson is
hoping to change the good-for-nothing reputation of this vicious ravager
through his research on chitin.
Chitin is a polymeric chemical and is most commonly found
in insects and crustaceans with hard exoskeletons. It is a glucose-based
molecule, similar to cellulose, which provides structure in plants. Chitin can be extracted by boiling shells with
being conducted by Dr. Parkinson and his team of fourth-year environmental
science students focuses on the
ability of chitin to act as a biomaterial in metal extraction applications to
take up and retain heavy metals from contaminated waters, making it a cheaper replacement
for activated carbon in water purifiers.
“Third world communities could
avail of these systems for their water quality, which in turn would reduce
diseases and the costs incurred and enhance their life expectancy to their
population,” he said.
In addition, using chitin
materials from fishery by-catch and shell wastes from the fishery would leave a
cleaner footprint on the environment, he said, and could potentially increase
the employment in the fishery and associated industries.
Dr. Parkinson noted there are
some NL startup companies that are beginning to investigate natural sea
materials for economic enterprises. He said this research would dovetail nicely
with their exploration and needs. While his research team has availed of
internal grants from Grenfell Campus, they are currently putting together a
proposal for seed money from the larger university and are looking for
investors, backers and collaborators in this area to help advance this research.
“It is estimated that 30,000 tons of shell waste is produced from the
island fishery of Newfoundland and Labrador yearly,” said Dr. Parkinson. “The
focus of this research is to make chemical products and to design them, when
their utility is over, to be environmentally friendly. Hence the motto ‘environmental
from birth to grave’.”
ABOUT FOR THE RECORD:
the semester we will highlight some of the interesting research taking
place at Grenfell Campus. The articles will appear here and will be
compiled on the research webpage.
Article prepared by Pamela Gill