Research Article: Metal contamination in harbours impacts life-history traits and metallothionein levels in snails

Date Published: July 3, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Maria Alexandra Bighiu, Elena Gorokhova, Bethanie Carney Almroth, Ann-Kristin Eriksson Wiklund, Fanis Missirlis.


Harbours with limited water exchange are hotspots of contaminant accumulation. Antifouling paints (AF) contribute to this accumulation by leaching biocides that may affect non-target species. In several leisure boat harbours and reference areas in the Baltic Sea, chronic exposure effects were evaluated using caging experiments with the snail Theodoxus fluviatilis. We analysed variations in ecologically relevant endpoints (mortality, growth and reproduction) in concert with variation in metallothionein-like proteins (MTLP) levels. The latter is a biomarker of exposure to metals, such as copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn), which are used in AF paints as active ingredient and stabilizer, respectively. In addition, environmental samples (water, sediment) were analysed for metal (Cu and Zn) and nutrient (total phosphorous and nitrogen) concentrations. All life-history endpoints were negatively affected by the exposure, with higher mortality, reduced growth and lower fecundity in the harbours compared to the reference sites. Metal concentrations were the key explanatory variables for all observed adverse effects, suggesting that metal-driven toxicity, which is likely to stem from AF paints, is a source of anthropogenic stress for biota in the harbours.

Partial Text

Pollution caused by boating activities is a well-known problem, largely due to the use of antifouling (AF) paints [1–4]. In the Baltic Sea, the most commonly used AF paints contain metals, such as copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn), whereas organic biocides are forbidden [5]. The number of leisure boats in the Baltic Sea is approximately 2 million, with half of them located in Sweden [6]. Leisure boats are stationary 90% of the time [7], leaching biocides and contributing to increased pollution in harbours [8]. In Sweden, the input of Cu from AF paints into surface waters was estimated 104 tonnes/year, which is twice the input from forest land runoff and 7-fold the input from atmospheric deposition. This makes AF paints the main diffuse source of Cu in the surface waters [9]. Elevated Cu and Zn levels in the sediment have been linked to AF paint use in several harbours on the west coast of Sweden, including natural harbours situated in pristine areas [10].

Although there was a high variability of physiological responses and environments among all study sites, there were higher metal concentrations in the harbours compared to the reference sites and lower fitness of the snails caged in the harbours. We found that Cu and Zn, i.e., the metals originating to a great extent from AF paints, were the key predictors of the observed biological responses. Therefore, the Hypotheses 1 and 2 were supported, and the harbour environments, boating activities and AF paints were identified as significant contributors to the suboptimal environment for T. fluviatilis. The poorest survival, growth, and reproduction of the snails, as well as highest MTLP levels, were observed at the site Marina 1, one of the largest marinas for recreational boats in the Baltic Sea; thus, it is not surprising that snails in this habitat were the most heavily impacted.

In conclusion, this study shows that leisure boat harbours accumulate metal contaminants and this has negative consequences for non-target species, such as the snail T. fluviatilis. As AF paints are one of the main sources of Cu in the studied areas, we ascribe the observed impacts to the metals leaching from boat coating. However, we did not analyse organic contaminants originating from e.g., oils used in motorboats and, therefore, their potential contribution to the observed toxic effects cannot be excluded. Further studies on metal bioaccumulation in periphyton and snails are needed in order to link the biological effects to the dietary exposure.




0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments