ESR 7:249-256 (2009)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00158

Mercury concentrations in the goliath grouper of Belize: an anthropogenic stressor of concern

David C. Evers1,*, Rachel T. Graham2, Christopher R. Perkins3, Robert Michener4, Tim Divoll1

1BioDiversity Research Institute, 19 Flaggy Meadow Road, Gorham, Maine 04038, USA
2Ocean Giants, Marine Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, PO Box 76, Punta Gorda, Belize
3Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269-5210, USA
4IRMS Laboratory, Boston University Stable Isotope Laboratory, Department of Biology, 5 Cummington St., Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA

ABSTRACT: Global levels of available methylmercury (MeHg) in aquatic ecosystems have increased dramatically over the past century. Recent findings in temperate North America have shown that biological mercury (Hg) hotspots exist, and these hotspots can be related to local emission and effluent sources. Life history traits of the goliath grouper Epinephelus itajara place it as a species at high risk of adverse effects from environmental Hg loads. Muscle Hg analyses for 57 goliath groupers sampled in southern Belize reveal that 40% exceed United States governmental advisory criteria for human health; all individual grouper exceeding these criteria were >55 cm total length. People, particularly from coastal areas in southern Belize, commonly consume goliath grouper. The regular consumption of goliath grouper by sensitive groups of people, such as pregnant women, should be closely monitored, particularly in biological Hg hotspots. Stable isotope analysis for δ13C and δ15N in goliath grouper indicates a broad prey base with a relatively high trophic status. Through biomagnification and bioaccumulation of MeHg, older individuals are therefore at greatest risk of physiological impairment, particularly when performing complex and coordinated behaviors, such as those associated with spawning aggregations. Potential adverse effects of MeHg loads on goliath grouper, including predator avoidance, impaired growth rates, and lowered reproductive success, warrant investigation. This is particularly urgent for the critically endangered goliath grouper because of recent range-wide population declines, loss of spawning aggregations, and our findings, which present compelling evidence that tropical marine ecosystems are sensitive to Hg inputs.


KEY WORDS: Goliath grouper · Mercury · Belize · Stable isotopes · Human health · Conservation


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Cite this article as: Evers DC, Graham RT, Perkins CR, Michener R, Divoll T (2009) Mercury concentrations in the goliath grouper of Belize: an anthropogenic stressor of concern. Endang Species Res 7:249-256. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00158

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