Examination of a time series of foraminiferal assemblage distributions on the continental shelf and slope of Santa Monica Bay from 1955 to 1997-1998 suggests that the benthic microfauna have been greatly affected by the quality and character of the municipal sludge and wastewater discharged into the bay over the last half-century by the Hyperion Treatment Plant serving the greater Los Angeles area. Five species dominate both the living and dead foraminiferal assemblages of the 1997-1998 surface samples, including Eggerella advena, Trochammina pacifica, Bulimina denudata, Buliminella elegantissima, and Epistominella bradyana. Temporal patterns of relative species abundances for both living and dead assemblages, as well as toxicity tests measuring amphipod survival and sea urchin fertilization success, show improvement since the sewage treatment program was enhanced in 1986. None of these trends are evident 10 years earlier, coincident with the onset of a Pacific Decadal Oscillation warming trend. This fact suggests that remediation, and not climate change, is responsible for the faunal changes observed. Even with remediation, however, all foraminiferal faunal trends have not returned to early-outfall levels. The organic-waste indicating species T. pacifica shows a slow decline in abundance as sewage treatment and sludge disposal activities have improved, whereas a dramatic increase in the abundance of the pioneer colonizer of impacted regions, E. advena, has occurred, often with a reciprocal response by B. denudata. Also evident is a dramatic shift in the abundance of the once-dominant species Nonionella basispinata and Nonionella stella, which were unable to recolonize Santa Monica Bay since the two major outfalls (5- and 7-mile) began discharging. Temporal variations in species abundances, as well as range expansions, contractions, and the inability to recolonize areas previously, or presently, impacted, suggests that foraminifers are a useful tool in defining areas affected by waste discharge.
Additional publication details
Response of benthic foraminifers to sewage discharge and remediation in Santa Monica Bay, California