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Put On Your Sunscreen! Even Fish Are Getting Skin Cancer

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“If you're still skeptical that a tan can be dangerous, consider this: Scientists have found that wild fish are getting skin cancer from ultraviolet radiation. Approximately 15 percent of coral trout in Australia's Great Barrier Reef had cancerous lesions on their scales...It's probably no coincidence that Australia is under the Earth's biggest hole in the ozone layer,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

“Researchers hadn't set out to look for signs of cancer in fish. Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science were near the Great Barrier Reef conducting a survey of shark prey, predominantly coral trout. They kept seeing strange dark patches on the normally bright orange fish, and for help they turned to another research team from the University of Newcastle in England that was studying coral disease in the area.”

But when the scientists cut the fish tissue into slices and put them under a microscope they found tumor formations. And the tumors looked nearly identical to samples from fish that had been given melanoma as part of a lab experiment.

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Michael Sweet, a coral disease expert, noted that, “it was probably not a coincidence that the cancer occurred in the Great Barrier Reef, which sits under the outer reaches of the ozone hole centered over Antarctica. That greatly increases the area's exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to cancer-causing mutations in DNA.”

Science magazine quoted Sweet as saying, “It's also unclear whether the quality of diseased fish pose a danger to humans who eat them, he says, but because they are also bred commercially, he is doubtful that diseased ones will ever make it to market.”

Somehow, I don’t find that very reassuring.

The magazine also noted that in addition to ozone layer depletion, Sweet and his researchers think several of the fish species “may be crossbreeding with each other, resulting in offspring that are more prone—due to the loss or mutation of certain genes—to UV-induced skin cancer.”

But since we’ve still got that big hole in the ozone layer, I’m again not particularly reassured.

All of this falls in line with a study that the HER Institute (Human and Environmental Rights) said was done by the University of Sydney that examined the effects of ozone depletion. It noted that, “Skin cancer has reached epidemic proportions in Australia. Two out of three Australians will get some form of skin cancer in their life times and one out of 60 will develop the potentially fatal melanoma skin cancer.”

“The cost to the community is currently estimated to be $200-400 million per year. With depletion of the ozone layer these figures are expected to get worse. Also the costs to agriculture of animal skin cancers will increase.”

Excuse me while I head over to the drugstore and see if I can find any sunscreen with an SPF of 200.

Are you surprised to find out that fish can get skin cancer? If this situation becomes more widespread would it affect your decision to eat seafood?

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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com

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