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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 206:155-170 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps206155

Changes in immune parameters of natural mussel Mytilus edulis populations following a major oil spill (ŒSea Empress¹, Wales, UK)

Elisabeth A. Dyrynda1,*, Robin J. Law2, Peter E. J. Dyrynda1, Carole A. Kelly2, Richard K. Pipe3, Norman A. Ratcliffe1

1School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, United Kingdom
2Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Burnham Laboratory, Remembrance Avenue, Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex CM0 8HA, United Kingdom
3Natural Environment Research Council, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth, Devon PL1 2PB, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT: In February 1996, the oil tanker ŒSea Empress¹ spilt over 70000 t of crude oil which contaminated ca 200 km of coastline (Milford Haven, Wales, UK). The effects of the oil on immunity in mussels Mytilus edulis were investigated in parallel with the measurement of hydrocarbon contamination in the tissues. Initially, severe immunosuppression occurred in oiled mussels, corresponding with very high polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) levels. The haemocytes of mussels from oiled sites showed significantly reduced superoxide generation and phagocytic activity, effects likely to have deleterious consequences for successful disease resistance. As contaminant levels decreased, the immunosuppression became less extreme and recovery was evident by May 1996. Between October 1996 and March 1997, immune activity in the haemocytes of the previously oiled mussels was again significantly reduced, coinciding with increased PAH levels. During this latter period, certain high molecular mass PAHs (characteristically derived from combustion processes) were primarily responsible for the increase, occurring at similar concentrations in the mussel tissues to those observed just after the spill. A subsequent reduction of hydrocarbons in June 1997 was followed by another, but less marked, increase in PAHs between October 1997 and March 1998, coupled with only minimal changes in immunity. The results show that immunosuppression following the oil spill was severe, but that recovery followed a few months later and the initial effects were not therefore permanent. The results also suggest that seasonal peaks in combustion-derived PAHs may occur in the region and that these would have been greatly exacerbated early in 1996 by oil released from the ŒSea Empress¹.

KEY WORDS: Mytilus · Immune defence · Haemocyte · Oil spill · Hydrocarbon contamination

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