Heading towards Dystopia

In last weeks seminar we were joined by a guest lecturer Owen Jones who studies Hydro citizenship, and works to connect communities through responses to water and water related issues. Jones works on a variety of projects for Water City Bristol and discussed some really interesting points about the issues facing marine life and human life, because of the way we as humans have treated water. The project “Towards Hydrocitizenship” aims to look at;  “Relationships within communities and between communities… through exploring the stories of past and current relationships between people and water.” (Water City Bristol, 2017). One specific point that Jones raised was the impact of human contraceptives and drugs on marine life. I found this particularly startling, as I had never considered that what humans put into their bodies also effects water culture, my previous assumption was that the main issue is that of plastic waste.

When female contraceptives are taken artificial estrogens enter the water system , research has found that sewage systems may not entirely break down these oestrogens (Roach, 2007). The issue is that male fish become feminised, as they are effected by very subtle changes in hormones. As a result of untreated estrogen in waste water male fish  produce “vitellogenin (VTG) mRNA and protein, associated with oocyte maturation in females.” (Kidd et al, 2007). Findings from a study conducted by Kidd et al into the impact of estrogen on male fish , found that exposure to both natural and synthetic estrogen reduces the fertilisation rates of fish populations and that “chronic exposure of longer-lived species to these substances may result in the loss of these populations” (2007, p8900). This research therefore supports the idea that what we consume as humans will have a large impact on marine life.

Not only have human contraceptives affected marine life but plastics used in drugs have also had an impact. The Beach Chair Scientist published a blog post on this issue which notes the multiple studies that indicate the impact of pharmaceuticals  on marine life (BCS,2013). For example “Researchers are the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. found that through pharmaceutical waste runoff shrimp had been exposed to antidepressants” (BCS,2013), the affect of the was reduced numbers of shrimp. Furthermore the article also cites a study in 2012 that found  “psychoactive medications in water affect the gene expression profiles of fathead minnows in a way that mimics the gene expression patterns associated with autism”(BCS,2013). Confirming again the impact of the pharmaceutical industry on Marine life.

The more reading I have done into this area, the more I have been startled by the dystopian likeness to our reality. The notion of fish being impacted by drugs appears other worldly, yet it is found in scientific studies. When reading Memory of Water and Oryx and Crake I was struck by the dystopian predictions of our future within the novels. However these findings have evoked the same reaction. If we don’t change our aptitude towards pharmaceutical waste whole fish populations will become extinct or their behaviours changed. I would argue that from these findings, we are heading towards an  future where fish populations have to be given drugs to counteract the drugs in waste products. I will certainly think twice before flushing any form of pharmaceutical down the toilet.



Atwood, Margaret (2003) Oryx and Crake, London: Bloomsbury.

Beach Chair Scientist (2013) “What’s in your medicine cabinet affects aquatic life” BCS (Online) Available at: http://beachchairscientist.com/2013/02/25/whats-in-your-medicine-cabinet-affects-aquatic-life/ [Accessed 08 November 2017].

Itäranta, Emmi (2015) Memory of Water, London: Harper Voyager.

Karen A. Kidd,  Paul J. Blanchfield,  Kenneth H. Mills, Vince P. Palace, Robert E. Evans, James M. Lazorchak and Robert W. Flick (2007) “Collapse of a fish population after exposure to a synthetic estrogen” PNS, Vol. 104 (21): pp 8897–8901.

Roach, J (2007) “Sex-Changing Chemicals Can Wipe Out Fish, Study Shows” National Geographic (Online) Available at: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/05/070521-sex-fish.html [Accessed 08 November 2017].

Water City Bristol (2017) Hydrocitizenship (Online) Available at: http://www.watercitybristol.org/hydrocitizenship.html [Accessed 8 November 2017].



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