Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are highly toxic and persistent aquatic pollutants that are known to bioaccumulate in a variety of marine mammals. They have been associated with reduced recruitment rates and population declines in multiple species. Evidence to date documents effects of PCB exposures on female reproduction, but few studies have investigated whether PCB exposure impacts male fertility. Using blubber tissue samples of 99 adult and 168 juvenile UK-stranded harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) collected between 1991 and 2017, here we show that PCBs exposures are associated with reduced testes weights in adults with good body condition. In animals with poor body condition, however, the impact of PCBs on testes weights was reduced, conceivably due to testes weights being limited by nutritional stress. This is the first study to investigate the relationship between PCB contaminant burden and testes weights in cetaceans and represents a substantial advance in our understanding of the relationship between PCB exposures and male reproductive biology in cetaceans. As testes weight is a strong indicator of male fertility in seasonally breeding mammals, we suggest the inclusion of such effects in population level impact assessments involving PCB exposures. Given the re-emergent PCB threat our findings are globally significant, with potentially serious implications for long-lived mammals. We show that more effective PCB controls could have a substantial impact on the reproductive health of coastal cetacean species and that management actions may need to be escalated to ensure adequate protection of the most vulnerable cetacean populations.
Pollution and Marine Debris
About 80% of the total pollution from ships is caused by operational oil discharges into the sea, often made deliberately and in violation of international rules; the main reasons can be due to cost savings or lack of adequate facilities in ports to receive waste oils. Therefore, reducing waste oil discharges is crucial for a proper protection of the marine environment. In this regard, the paper presents the preliminary feasibility of a particular waste recycling technology, aimed at obtaining marine fuel oil from sludge, through a pyrolysis process to be carried out in a small reactor onboard. The originality of the research consists in the adaptation of pyrolysis to oily waste produced by ships, since this technology is traditionally applied to solid waste and biomass. Furthermore, the plant has to be designed for operation on board the ship, therefore under very different constraints compared to traditional land plants. Although the preliminary lab tests and simulation results in the chemical process are promising enough, there are still some technical criticalities due to the energy optimization of the reactor for an efficient use onboard of the whole system. In addition, the possibility of recycling waste, directly onboard ships, is not yet covered by mandatory regulations, which is why shipowners generally still feel unmotivated to invest in such technologies.
The resilience of coastal ecosystems and communities to poor environmental and health outcomes is threatened by cumulative anthropogenic pressures. In Kiribati, a developing Pacific Island country where human activities are closely connected with the ocean, both people and environment are particularly vulnerable to coastal pollution. We present a survey of environmental and human health water quality parameters around urban South Tarawa, and an overview of their impacts on the semi-enclosed atoll. Tarawa has significant water quality issues and decisions to guide improvements are hindered by a persistent lack of appropriate and sufficient observations. Our snapshot assessment identifies highest risk locations related to chronic focused and diffuse pollution inputs, and where mixing and dilution with ocean water is restricted. We demonstrate the importance of monitoring in the context of rapidly changing pressures. Our recommendations are relevant to other atoll ecosystems where land-based activities and ocean health are tightly interlinked.
Harmful algal blooms produce toxins that bioaccumulate in the food web and adversely affect humans, animals, and entire marine ecosystems. Blooms of the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia can produce domoic acid (DA), a toxin that most commonly causes neurological disease in endothermic animals, with cardiovascular effects that were first recognized in southern sea otters. Over the last 20 years, DA toxicosis has caused significant morbidity and mortality in marine mammals and seabirds along the west coast of the USA. Identifying DA exposure has been limited to toxin detection in biological fluids using biochemical assays, yet measurement of systemic toxin levels is an unreliable indicator of exposure dose or timing. Furthermore, there is little information regarding repeated DA exposure in marine wildlife. Here, the association between long-term environmental DA exposure and fatal cardiac disease was investigated in a longitudinal study of 186 free-ranging sea otters in California from 2001 – 2017, highlighting the chronic health effects of a marine toxin. A novel Bayesian spatiotemporal approach was used to characterize environmental DA exposure by combining several DA surveillance datasets and integrating this with life history data from radio-tagged otters in a time-dependent survival model. In this study, a sea otter with high DA exposure had a 1.7-fold increased hazard of fatal cardiomyopathy compared to an otter with low exposure. Otters that consumed a high proportion of crab and clam had a 2.5- and 1.2-times greater hazard of death due to cardiomyopathy than otters that consumed low proportions. Increasing age is a well-established predictor of cardiac disease, but this study is the first to identify that DA exposure affects the risk of cardiomyopathy more substantially in prime-age adults than aged adults. A 4-year-old otter with high DA exposure had 2.3 times greater risk of fatal cardiomyopathy than an otter with low exposure, while a 10-year old otter with high DA exposure had just 1.2 times greater risk. High Toxoplasma gondii titers also increased the hazard of death due to heart disease 2.4-fold. Domoic acid exposure was most detrimental for prime-age adults, whose survival and reproduction are vital for population growth, suggesting that persistent DA exposure will likely impact long-term viability of this threatened species. These results offer insight into the pervasiveness of DA in the food web and raise awareness of under-recognized chronic health effects of DA for wildlife at a time when toxic blooms are on the rise.
Despite a long-documented history of severe harmful algal blooms (HABs) in New England coastal waters, corresponding HAB-associated marine mammal mortality events in this region are far less frequent or severe relative to other regions where HABs are common. This long-term survey of the HAB toxins saxitoxin (STX) and domoic acid (DA) demonstrates significant and widespread exposure of these toxins in New England marine mammals, across multiple geographic, temporal and taxonomic groups. Overall, 19% of the 458 animals tested positive for one or more toxins, with 15% and 7% testing positive for STX and DA, respectively. 74% of the 23 different species analyzed demonstrated evidence of toxin exposure. STX was most prevalent in Maine coastal waters, most frequently detected in common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), and most often detected during July and October. DA was most prevalent in animals sampled in offshore locations and in bycaught animals, and most frequently detected in mysticetes, with humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) testing positive at the highest rates. Feces and urine appeared to be the sample matrices most useful for determining the presence of toxins in an exposed animal, with feces samples having the highest concentrations of STX or DA. No relationship was found between the bloom season of toxin-producing phytoplankton and toxin detection rates, however STX was more likely to be present in July and October. No relationship between marine mammal dietary preference and frequency of toxin detection was observed. These findings are an important part of a framework for assessing future marine mammal morbidity and mortality events, as well as monitoring ecosystem health using marine mammals as sentinel organisms for predicting coastal ocean changes.
Chemical pollution impinges on the quality of water systems and the ecosystem services (ESs) they provide. Expression of ESs in monetary units has become an essential tool for sustainable ecosystem management. However, the impact of chemical pollution on ESs is rarely quantified, and ES valuation often focuses on individual services without considering the total services provided by the ecosystem. The purpose of the study was to develop a stepwise approach to quantify the impact of sediment pollution on the total ES value provided by water systems. Thereby, we calculated the total ES value loss as a function of the multi-substance potentially affected fraction of species at the HC50 level (msPAF(HC50)). The function is a combination of relationships between, subsequently: the msPAF(HC50), diversity, productivity and total ES value. Regardless of the inherent differences between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, an increase of diversity generally corresponded to an increase in productivity with curvilinear or linear effects. A positive correlation between productivity and total values of ESs of biomes was observed. The combined relationships showed that 1% msPAF(HC50) corresponded to on average 0.5% (0.05–1.40%) of total ES value loss. The ES loss due to polluted sediments in the Waal-Meuse river estuary (the Netherlands) and Flemish waterways (Belgium) was estimated to be 0.3–5 and 0.6–10 thousand 2007$/ha/yr, respectively. Our study presents a novel methodology to assess the impact of chemical exposure on diversity, productivity, and total value that ecosystems provide. With sufficient monitoring data, our generic methodology can be applied for any chemical and region of interest and help water managers make informed decisions on cost-effective measures to remedy pollution. Acknowledging that the ES loss estimates as a function of PAF(HC50) are crude, we explicitly discuss the uncertainties in each step for further development and application of the methodology.
As filter-feeders, freshwater mussels provide the ecosystem service (ES) of biofiltration. Chemical pollution may impinge on the provisioning of mussels' filtration services. However, few attempts have been made to estimate the impacts of chemical mixtures on mussels' filtration capacities in the field, nor to assess the economic benefits of mussel-provided filtration services for humans. The aim of the study was to derive and to apply a methodology for quantifying the economic benefits of mussel filtration services in relation to chemical mixture exposure. To this end, we first applied the bootstrapping approach to quantify the filtration capacity of dreissenid mussels when exposed to metal mixtures in the Rhine and Meuse Rivers in the Netherlands. Subsequently, we applied the value transfer method to quantify the economic benefits of mussel filtration services to surface water-dependent drinking water companies. The average mixture filtration inhibition (filtration rate reduction due to exposure to metal mixtures) to dreissenids was estimated to be <1% in the Rhine and Meuse Rivers based on the measured metal concentrations from 1999 to 2017. On average, dreissenids on groynes were estimated to filter the highest percentage of river discharge in the Nederrijn-Lek River (9.1%) and the lowest in the Waal River (0.1%). We estimated that dreissenid filtration services would save 110–12,000 euros/million m3 for drinking water production when abstracting raw water at the end of respective rivers. Economic benefits increased over time due to metal emission reduction. This study presents a novel methodology for quantifying the economic benefits of mussel filtration services associated with chemical pollution, which is understandable to policymakers. The derived approach could potentially serve as a blueprint for developing methods in examining the economic value of other filter-feeders exposed to other chemicals and environmental stressors. We explicitly discuss the uncertainties for further development and application of the method.
In this study, the wave-induced distribution of 13 microplastic (MP) samples of different size, shape, and density was investigated in a wave flume with a sandy mobile beach bed profile. The particle parameter were chosen based on an occurrence probability investigated from the field. MP abundances were analyzed in cross-shore and vertical direction of the test area after over 40,000 regular waves. It was found, that MP particles accumulated in more shallow waters with increasing size and density. Particles with high density (ρs>1.25 g/cm3ρs>1.25 g/cm3) have been partly confined into deeper layers of the sloping beach during the formation of the bed profile. Particles with a density lower than that of water used in the experiments floated constantly in the surf zone or deposited on the beach caused by wave run-up. A correlation was found between the settling velocity of the MP particles and the flow velocity at the accumulation point and a power function equation developed. The obtained results were critically discussed with findings from the field and further laboratory studies.
Assessment of chemical exposures in the marine environment is frequently undertaken in sedentary organisms inhabiting coastal environments. However, predatory pelagic fish should be considered sentinel species, as they play an important role in the sustainability of the ecosystems due to their high position in trophic webs. In this study, carboxylesterase (CE) activities were analysed in four predatory tuna species of commercial interest along the western Mediterranean Sea: little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus), Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda), bullet tuna (Auxis rochei) and albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga). CEs are potential biomarkers of chemical exposure, as they are an important family of enzymes involved in the metabolism of xenobiotic and endogenous compounds. CE measures were taken from the liver of these tuna species using five commercial substrates: 4-nitrophenyl acetate (4NPA), 4-nitrophenyl butyrate (4NPB), 1-naphthyl acetate (1NA), 1-naphthyl butyrate (1NB), and 2-naphthyl acetate (2NA). Butyrate substrates (1NB and 4NPB) yielded the highest hydrolysis rates, and were thus the best substrates for these measures. CE activities differed between species. The larger differences were attained with 1NB-CE, with higher activities seen in bullet tuna, followed by little tunny, Atlantic bonito and albacore tuna. Individual size was identified as one of the main factors modulating CE activities, while there was no evidence for a role for trophic level (measured as δ15N). Using little tunny as sentinel, no geographical differences but inter-annual variation in CE activity was observed. The kinetic parameters and in vitro exposure to the pesticide dichlorvos provided complementary information on the sensitivity of tuna CEs to this model pesticide. Our results propose that the little tunny could be considered a potential bioindicator species in the pelagic realm.
Microplastics (MPs) are ubiquitous in the aquatic environment due to plastic waste proliferation in diverse sectors. The recent years have witnessed exponential growth in the number of studies focusing on their occurrence, distribution and toxicity in several parts of India. The overarching aim of this article is to evaluate the sources, abundance, and characteristics of MPs reported in the sediments, water, and biota of the aquatic ecosystems in India. The review revealed that while the MPs from land-based sources such as littering, domestic sewage, and industrial runoff were carried by rivers and streams, MPs from other sources including marine litter and accidental spillages during shipping directly enter the aquatic environment. The unique hydrodynamic conditions during the southwest and northeast monsoons were found to influence the abundance and distribution of MPs in the Indian aquatic ecosystems. Although the seaward flushing and monsoonal flux were reported to increase the abundance of MPs, the reversal of the winds and currents during the NE monsoon was observed to oppose the drift of MPs towards the Goa coast. The reported higher concentrations of MPs in the beach sediments collected from the high tide line (1323 ± 1228 mg/m2) as compared to that of low tide line (178 ± 261 mg/m2) along the southeast coast of India also emphasize the tidal influence. While the shape and type of MPs can help in determining their sources, their size and colour might influence their ingestion in aquatic biota and also indicate the amount of degradation. The variability in the characteristics of MPs observed between different studies could also be a factor of difference in the sampling and analysis techniques adopted. Although the general practice of degutting before consumption could lower the risk of MPs transfer from fish, popular delicacies of dried fish and shrimps could be potential sources of human ingestion. Since the research was mostly confined to the southern coasts of India and some urban recreational beaches, the MP pollution on other coastal regions of India remains largely unexplored. Moreover, with very few studies reporting on the MP pollution in the freshwater ecosystems, the wide network of rivers and enclosed water bodies could also be the major focus of future research.