Towards a Sustainable Development of River-Sea Systems (RSSs) and Coastal Areas

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Helsinki, Finland (26–30 May 2019).

A guest post by Josep Sanchís

Coastlines and estuaries are complex ecosystems that are located in the nexus of marine, riverine, terrestrial, and air environments. In such intersections, it is common to find valuable natural parks and reservoirs, often treasuring delicate environments and unique life forms. This is particularly true in the case of estuaries and the surrounding wetlands, whose brakish waters serve as home for a variety of amphibian species, specialized plants, migrant birds and many others. Humans rely on estuaries for food and recreation, and these ecosystems can be found among the most productive in the world. Not surprising, 22 of the 32 largest cities can be found on estuaries. As a result, estuaries are stressed by multiple anthropogenic pressures. The marine nearshore also provides important socio-economic resources that support fundamental sectors including, for instance, aquaculture, fishing, tourism, oil and gas extraction, power generation, and naval activity. Because of all this, the preservation of these ecological, cultural, and socio-economic resources is a priority on a global scale that joins efforts from governments, regulatory agencies, and academia.

We are hosting a session at the upcoming SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting titled “Towards a sustainable development of river-sea systems (RSSs) and coastal areas,” which focuses on some of the most relevant environmental issues that affect these delicate ecosystems. The presentations will present case studies and will provide debate around a range of chemical stressors, illustrating the new trends and the current state of the art in the management and protection of RRSs, estuaries, and coastal areas.

Currently, plastic litter (including micro- and nanoplastics) in the aquatic environment is one of the most urgent challenges we need to address. Humans have been producing this kind of contamination for decades, but public awareness about this issue has grown considerably over the years. The scientific community is just starting to understand the extent of this threat. This session will showcase the complicated research debates on plastic litter, including how to measure microplastics and how plastics interact with other substances. Marinella Farré will present the newest and most accurate ways to determine the concentration of select microplastics at ultra-trace levels in real environmental matrices. Marta Llorca will discuss the complex relationships between suspended microplastics and dissolved co-contaminants (i.e., polychlorobiphenyls [PCBs] and perfluorinated substances [PFAS]) and how microplastics modify the transport and perhaps the effects of these hazardous substances. Other presentations will focus on the occurrence of selected microplastics in the Ebro river-sea system, including the river, its delta, and the Mediterranean Sea.


Landscaped woodland park located around the source of the River Ebro near the village of Fontibre, Cantabria, Spain. Courtesy of Wikimedia and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

On another note, RSSs and coastal areas are vulnerable to the emission of different families of emerging organic micropollutants. Presentations will focus on this vulnerability using two different estuaries of the Iberian Peninsula: The Ebro River Delta and the Albufera Natural Park as examples. Maria Vittoria Barbieri will share the results from her investigation on the occurrence of 52 pesticides in water and sediments from the Ebro River Delta, and Daniele Sadutto will report on their study of about 30 emerging contaminants, including personal care products and pharmaceutical compounds, in a freshwater lagoon and estuary near Valencia.

Nanotechnology waste constitutes another example of anthropogenic contaminants that have triggered alarms in recent years. While nanomaterials of natural origin were always present in the environment, the development of nanotechnology has drastically increased the variety and quantity of nanoparticles entering into the environment. It is important to determine the occurrence levels and size distribution of anthropogenic nanomaterials entering the aquatic environment in order to correctly assess their environmental risk. This task proves to be particularly challenging in water environments with high salinity and at real environmental concentrations.

The contamination of water and biota by metals and metalloids is also a high-priority topic, as will be attested by a series of presentations. Poul Bjerregaard will talk about the fate of mercury contamination in Harboøre Tange (Denmark), a region heavily impacted by mercury discharges during the 1950s and 1960s. Winfred Espejo will focus on the trophodynamics of tantalum in invertebrates and fish from coastal zones along the Chilean coast and the remote Antarctic Peninsula. Marjorie Lortholarie will investigate the bioconcentration of scandium, yttrium and 14 lanthanids (rare earth metals) in the muscle tissue of eels and flounder living in the Loire estuary. In addition, two studies will investigate the occurrence, fate, and risk of selected metalloids in the Baltic Sea. The first reports on a 5-year biomonitoring study that tracked the seasonality of metal and metalloids in blue mussels. The other examines the fate of metalloids and study the environmental risk they pose to the in the historically polluted sediments of the Trave Estuary.

Also dealing with metal contamination, Robert Johnston will present his experience with the monitoring of Sinclair Inlets and Dyes Inlet in the State of Washington (USA). This large study, which included wastewater effluents, water column samples, sediments, and mussels, was carried out to assess the presence of metal residues and legacy persistent organic pollutants. Its results show how the implementation of better management practices in local industry results in better water quality in nearshore areas.

Finally, Noa Shenkar will discuss the applicability of several invasive species (Phallusia nigra, Styela plicata, Microcosmus exesperatus and Herdmania momus) as biological indicators for the biomonitoring of some of the toxic pollutants that have been previously mentioned (microplastics, phthalates, heavy metals, and pharmaceutical compounds). The authors will discuss the presence of polluted zones in the Israeli coast and in the Red Sea, and they will offer new insights about the effects of these harmful substances on aquatic life after prolonged exposure.

If you are interested in these topics, you will discover some answers here and, probably, some new stimulating questions as well.

Session information: “Towards a sustainable development of river-sea systems (RSSs) and coastal areas”
28 May 2019 | 8:30 – 12:25 | Room 201

1 thought on “Towards a Sustainable Development of River-Sea Systems (RSSs) and Coastal Areas

  1. Ray Kinney

    Great to see this land/sea transition focus for toxicology. The Pacific coast US salmon habitat restoration environmental assessment efforts suffer from a functional disconnect in prioritization and funding. This is largely due to terrestrial aquatic science researchers reluctance to explore the estuarine interface, while the marine researchers are similarly reluctant to overlap their specialized saltwater knowledge scope into the same freshwater/ saltwater toxicologic complications necessary for environmental assessment. There is great need for researchers that can expand their knowledge base to cover the interface environments more comprehensively. Research comfort zones need to be expanded to fill these data gaps for emerging climate change sea level rise as well as for realtime assessment need right now. Ocean science needs to
    become more accepting of freshwater toxicologic influence on nearshore marine environments as we move into the future of environmental assessment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.