TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

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Large scale surveys suggest limited mercury availability in tropical north Queensland (Australia)

TitleLarge scale surveys suggest limited mercury availability in tropical north Queensland (Australia)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsJardine, TD, Halliday, IA, Howley, C, Sinnamon, V, Bunn, SE
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Start Page385
Date Published02/2012
Keywordsbarramundi, Cape York, Fishery, floodplain, Gold mining, stable isotopes

Little is known about the threat of mercury (Hg) to consumers in food webs of Australia's wet-dry tropics. This is despite high concentrations in similar biomes elsewhere and a recent history of gold mining that could lead to a high degree of exposure for biota. We analysed Hg in water, sediments, invertebrates and fishes in rivers and estuaries of north Queensland, Australia to determine its availability and biomagnification in food webs. Concentrations in water and sediments were low relative to other regions of Hg concern, with only four of 138 water samples and five of 60 sediment samples above detection limits of 0.1μgL(-1) and 0.1μgg(-1), respectively. Concentrations of Hg in fishes and invertebrates from riverine and wetland food webs were well below international consumption guidelines, including those in piscivorous fishes, likely due to low baseline concentrations and limited rates of biomagnification (average slope of log Hg vs. δ(15)N=0.08). A large fish species of recreational, commercial, and cultural importance (the barramundi, Lates calcarifer), had low concentrations that were below consumption guidelines. Observed variation in Hg concentrations in this species was primarily explained by age and foraging location (floodplain vs. coastal), with floodplain feeders having higher Hg concentrations than those foraging at sea. These analyses suggest that there is a limited threat of Hg exposure for fish-eating consumers in this region.