A preliminary survey of marine contamination from mining-related activities on Marinduque Island, Philippines: porewater toxicity and chemistry results from a field trip, October 14-19, 2000

Open-File Report 2001-441

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As a follow-up of an initial overview of environmental problems caused by mining activities on Marinduque Island, Philippines, USGS and TAMU-CC scientists went to Marinduque in October 2000 to do a preliminary assessment of potential impacts of mining-related activities on the marine environment. Like the previous visit in May 2000, the marine assessment was conducted at the invitation of Philippine Congressman Edmund O. Reyes.

In this report we present the results of sediment porewater toxicity tests and chemical analyses. Toxicity tests consist of laboratory analyses for the assessment of adverse effects caused by environmental contaminants to animals or plants. Sediments (sand or mud) are known to accumulate contaminants (e.g., copper and other heavy metals). Therefore, it is common to perform toxicity tests using different phases of the sedimentary environment in order to analyze adverse effects of contaminants accumulated in the sediment. Sediment pore water (or interstitial water, i.e., the water distributed among the sediment grains) is a sedimentary phase which controls the bioavailability of contaminants to bottom dwelling aquatic organisms (both plants and animals).

There are several different kinds of organisms with which toxicity tests can be performed. Among those, tests with sea urchin early life stages (gametes and embryos) are very common due to their high sensitivity to contaminants, ease of maintenance under laboratory conditions, and ecological importance, particularly in coral reefs. The basis of these tests is the exposure of gametes or embryos to the pore water to be analyzed for toxicity. If the pore water contains contaminants in levels that can adversely affect a number of marine species, fertilization and/or embryological development of sea urchins is inhibited.

Chemical analyses provide additional information and aid in the interpretation of the toxicity test results. For the current study, chemical analyses were performed for the measurement of porewater concentrations of several heavy metals associated with copper mining activities.

Pore waters for toxicological and chemical analyses were collected at several stations on the coast of Marinduque, near the mouths of the Boac and Mogpog rivers, and near the causeways formed by mine tailings disposal. Porewater samples were also collected at the Tres Reyes Marine Reserve, so that these non-contaminated samples could serve as a reference for test performance.

Sea urchin embryological development and fertilization were only significantly impaired by two porewater samples, suggesting the presence of contaminants in toxic amounts at those stations. The toxic samples were collected near the up current side of the Calancan (Marcopper) mine tailings causeway (stations 2 and 3 – see figure 10). The pore water from station 2 also had the highest levels of heavy metals, particularly cadmium, cobalt, copper, nickel, lead and zinc (Table 5). The concentrations of cobalt, nickel and zinc were also elevated 2 at station 3. Copper concentrations were also elevated at the two river mouth stations (8 and 9) and near the CMI tailings causeway (station 7).

Visual observations also indicated biological degradation due to heavy siltation and smothered coral at a gradient off the Calancan causeway, suggesting that siltation might also be causing a physical impact.

This preliminary survey suggests that effects related to past mining activities are still evident and warrant a more comprehensive study to assess their severity and areal extent.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
A preliminary survey of marine contamination from mining-related activities on Marinduque Island, Philippines: porewater toxicity and chemistry results from a field trip, October 14-19, 2000
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Version 1.0
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Columbia Environmental Research Center
62 p.