Herbicides: A new threat to the Great Barrier Reef

Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.
Environmental Pollution (Impact Factor: 3.9). 05/2009; 157(8-9):2470-84. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2009.03.006
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The runoff of pesticides (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) from agricultural lands is a key concern for the health of the iconic Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Relatively low levels of herbicide residues can reduce the productivity of marine plants and corals. However, the risk of these residues to Great Barrier Reef ecosystems has been poorly quantified due to a lack of large-scale datasets. Here we present results of a study tracing pesticide residues from rivers and creeks in three catchment regions to the adjacent marine environment. Several pesticides (mainly herbicides) were detected in both freshwater and coastal marine waters and were attributed to specific land uses in the catchment. Elevated herbicide concentrations were particularly associated with sugar cane cultivation in the adjacent catchment. We demonstrate that herbicides reach the Great Barrier Reef lagoon and may disturb sensitive marine ecosystems already affected by other pressures such as climate change.

Download full-text


Available from: Aaron M Davis, Jul 02, 2015
1 Follower
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Most reef building corals rely on symbiotic microalgae (genus Symbiodinium) to supply a substantial proportion of their energy requirements. Functional diversity of different Symbiodinium genotypes, endorsing the host with physiological advantages, has been widely reported. Yet, the influence of genotypic specificity on the symbiont's susceptibility to contaminants or cumulative stressors is unknown. Cultured Symbiodinium of presumed thermal-tolerant clade D tested especially vulnerable to the widespread herbicide diuron, suggesting important free-living populations may be at risk in areas subjected to terrestrial runoff. Co-exposure experiments where cultured Symbiodinium were exposed to diuron over a thermal stress gradient demonstrated how fast-growing clade C1 better maintained photosynthetic capability than clade D. The mixture toxicity model of Independent Action, considering combined thermal stress and herbicide contamination, revealed response additivity for inhibition of photosynthetic yield in both tested cultures, emphasizing the need to account for cumulative stressor impacts in ecological risk assessment and resource management. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Environmental Pollution 09/2015; 204. DOI:10.1016/j.envpol.2015.05.013 · 3.90 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Photosystem II herbicides from agricultural sources have been detected throughout nearshore tropical habitats including seagrass meadows. While PSII herbicides have been shown to inhibit growth in microalgae at low concentrations, the potential impacts of chronic low concentration exposures to seagrass health and growth have not been investigated. Here we exposed two tropical seagrass species Halodule uninervis and Zostera muelleri to elevated diuron concentrations (from 0.3 to 7.2μgl(-1)) over a 79-day period followed by a 2-week recovery period in uncontaminated seawater. PAM fluorometry demonstrated rapid effect of diuron on photosystem II (PSII) in both seagrass species at 0.3μgl(-1). This effect included significant inhibition of photosynthetic efficiency (ΔF/Fm') and inactivation of PSII (Fv/Fm) over the 11 week exposure period. Significant mortality and reductions in growth was only observed at the highest exposure concentration of 7.2μgl(-1) diuron. However, biochemical indicators demonstrated that the health of seagrass after this prolonged exposure was significantly compromised at lower concentrations. For example, the drop in C:N ratios (0.6μgl(-1)) and reduced δ(13)C (1.7μgl(-1)) in seagrass leaves indicated reduced C-assimilation from photosynthesis. Critically, the energetic reserves of the plants (as measured by starch content in the root-rhizome complex) were approximately halved following diuron exposure at and above 1.7μgl(-1). During the 2-week recovery period, the photosynthetic capacity of the seagrass improved with only plants from the highest diuron treatment still exhibiting chronic damage to PSII. This study shows that, although seagrass may survive prolonged herbicide exposures, concentrations ≥0.6μgl(-1) diuron equivalents cause measureable impacts on energetic status that may leave the plants vulnerable to other simultaneous stressors. For example, tropical seagrasses have been heavily impacted by reduced light from coastal flood plumes and the effects on plant energetics from light limitation and diuron exposure (highest in flood plumes) are very similar, potentially leading to cumulative negative effects. Crown Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
    Aquatic Toxicology 05/2015; 165:73-83. DOI:10.1016/j.aquatox.2015.05.007 · 3.51 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) includes one of the world’s largest areas of seagrass (35 000 km2) encompassing approximately 20% of the world’s species. Mapping and monitoring programs sponsored by the Australian and Queensland Governments and Queensland Port Authorities have tracked a worrying decrease in abundance and area since 2007. This decline has almost certainly been the result of a series of severe tropical storms and associated floods exacerbating existing human induced stressors. A complex variety of marine and terrestrial management actions and plans have been implemented to protect seagrass and other habitats in the GBRWHA. For seagrasses, these actions are inadequate. They provide an impression of effective protection of seagrasses; reduce the sense of urgency needed to trigger action; and waste the valuable and limited supply of “conservation capital”. There is a management focus on ports, driven by public concerns about high profile development projects, which exaggerates the importance of these relatively concentrated impacts in comparison to the total range of threats and stressors. For effective management of seagrass at the scale of the GBRWHA, more emphasis needs to be placed on the connectivity between seagrass meadow health, watersheds, and all terrestrial urban and agricultural development associated with human populations. The cumulative impacts to seagrass from coastal and marine processes in the GBRWHA are not evenly distributed, with a mosaic of high and low vulnerability areas. This provides an opportunity to make choices for future coastal development plans that minimise stress on seagrass meadows.
    Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 02/2015; 153:A1-A12. DOI:10.1016/j.ecss.2014.07.020 · 2.25 Impact Factor