Large-scale geographic patterns of mercury contamination in Morocco revealed by freshwater turtles

Abstract : Mercury (Hg) is a toxic contaminant present in most aquatic ecosystems. High concentrations pose serious threats to organisms and to human health. Because previous studies focused on few countries, environmental hazard due to Hg contamination remains obscure in many geographic areas, and for example limited information is available in North Africa. We examined total Hg contamination in 13 sites in Morocco (12 rivers and one lake) spread over a large area, 400 km north–south and 350 km west–east, that encompasses different biogeographic zones separated by the Atlas Mountains. Due to their longevity and sedentary habits, we used freshwater turtles as biological probes to monitor Hg exposure. Keratinized tissues reflect long-term Hg exposure; thus, we assayed Hg concentration in the claws of > 200 individuals and supplemented these data with blood Hg concentrations of > 60 individuals (a tissue that provides shorter term Hg exposure integration). The results provide the first large-scale picture of Hg contamination in the aquatic freshwater systems of Morocco. Comparisons with previous studies revealed that some of the sites were highly contaminated (e.g. mean Hg concentrations were above 5 μg g⁻¹, a very high level in keratinized tissues) whereas other sites presented moderate or baseline levels. Unexpectedly, all highly contaminated sites were found in less densely populated areas, while more densely urbanized northern sites, even the sewers of large cities, were not highly contaminated. We hypothesize that silver mining activities in the southern High Atlas and in the Anti-Atlas contaminate rivers of the catchment basins over long distances. These findings indicate that fish, water consumption and contamination levels in local people should be further scrutinized.
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Tahar Slimani, Mohamed Said El Hassani, El Hassan El Mouden, Marine Bonnet, Paco Bustamante, et al.. Large-scale geographic patterns of mercury contamination in Morocco revealed by freshwater turtles. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Springer Verlag, 2018, 25 (3), pp.2350-2360. ⟨10.1007/s11356-017-0643-5⟩. ⟨hal-01634574⟩

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