, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 622-637

First online:

Chemical contamination, toxicity, and benthic community indices in sediments of the lower Miami River and adjoining portions of Biscayne Bay, Florida

  • Edward R. LongAffiliated withNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOS/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Email author 
  • , M. Jawed HameediAffiliated withNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOS/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
  • , Gail M. SloaneAffiliated withFlorida Department of Environmental Protection, MS 3525
  • , Lorraine B. ReadAffiliated withEVS Environment Consultants, 200 West Mercer Street

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A large-scale survey of sediment quality in Biscayne Bay, Florida, was conducted in 1995–1996 to characterize the relative degree, geographic patterns, and spatial extent of degraded sediment quality. Chemical analyses and multiple toxicity tests were performed on 226 surficial sediment samples collected over an area of 484 km2 in greater Biscayne Bay, including saltwater reaches of several tributaries. Benthic samples were collected and analyzed at one-third of the locations. One or more chemical concentrations exceeded effects range median (ERM) values in 35 samples, representing an area of 5.4 km2 (1.1% of the survey area). Highly toxic conditions in amphipod survival tests occurred in 24 of the samples, representing 62 km2 (13% of the area). Highly significant results were more frequently observed in three sub-lethal tests: sea urchin fertilization (affecting 47% of the area), sea urchin embryological development (84% of the area), and microbial bioluminescence (51% of the area). The highest levels of chemical contamination (range in mean ERM quotients of 0.2 to 2.0, average 0.76) were observed in samples from the lower Miami River. The high degree of contamination in the river contrasted sharply with conditions in the bay, where chemical concentrations generally were much lower (range in mean ERM quotients of 0.005 to 0.21, average 0.04). Amphipod survival tests showed a very high degree of correspondence with a gradient in chemical contamination in the river and adjoining reaches of the bay. Correlation analyses, scatter plots, and principal component analyses indicated that both amphipod survival in the laboratory tests and the abundance and diversity of the benthos decreased sharply with increasing concentrations of mixtures of organic compounds and trace metals in the sediments. The triad of analyses provided a strong weight of evidence of pollution-induced degradation of sediment quality in the riverine locations.