, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 171-184

Copper mine tailing disposal in northern Chile rocky shores: Enteromorpha compressa (Chlorophyta) as a sentinel species

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Abstract

The study assesses the ecological impact caused by the El Salvador untreated (1975–1990) and treated (1991–1994) copper mine tailings on rocky intertidal communities in and around the dumping site at Caleta Palito, northern Chile. Ecological changes are monitored for 16 years in polluted and unpolluted sites within a geographical area of 90 km. Copper concentration levels in water and the intertidal Chlorophyta E. compressa are presented. The results confirm a notorious reduction in the number of species and significant differences between polluted and unpolluted intertidal communities. At polluted sites, following the initiation of the disposal, all species of invertebrates and algae disappeared and primary space (rock) was partially or completely dominated by E. compressa along more than a decade. Its persistence in these sites supports the view that this taxon is a sentinel species resisting high levels of copper pollution. During the past four years, following the steps given to treat the tailings, at polluted sites there are preliminary indications showing increases in the number of species of algae and invertebrate. The need for future monitoring to elucidate ecosystem restoration processes is discussed.