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Mercury Levels in Pristine and Gold Mining Impacted Aquatic Ecosystems of Suriname, South America


Mercury levels in sediment and predatory fish were measured for 53 localities in Suriname. The average mercury level in bottom sediment surpassed the Canadian standard for sediment in most localities, except the coastal plains. Of the predatory fish, 41 % had a mercury level above the European Union standard for human consumption of 0.5 μg g−1. Highest mercury levels were found in fish from the Brokopondo Reservoir and from the Upper Coppename River. High levels of mercury in fish in pristine areas are explained by atmospheric transportation of mercury with the northeastern trade winds followed by wet deposition. Contrary to gold mining areas, where mercury is bound to drifting sediments, in “pristine” areas the mercury is freely available for bio-accumulation and uptake. Impacts on piscivorous reptiles, birds, and mammals are unknown, but likely to be negative.

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The various projects were funded by WWF-Guianas (Water Quality Monitoring in the Commewijne Watershed Suriname, Mercury Pollution in the Greenstone Belt, Mercury Poisoning in the Brownsweg Village) and the Schure-Beijerinck-Popping Fund (The Impact of Atmospheric Transported Mercury on the Mercury Levels in Water and Biota in the Rivers of Suriname). Several water, sediment, and fish samples were taken during RAP expeditions funded by Conservation International. Work in the field would have been impossible without the assistance of Usha Satnarain, Rawien Jairam, Joyce Metjo, and Indra Asraf-Nanden. Indra and Joyce were also responsible for mercury analysis in the laboratory.

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Correspondence to Paul E. Ouboter.

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Ouboter, P.E., Landburg, G.A., Quik, J.H.M. et al. Mercury Levels in Pristine and Gold Mining Impacted Aquatic Ecosystems of Suriname, South America. AMBIO 41, 873–882 (2012).

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  • Mercury pollution
  • Small-scale gold mining
  • Aquatic ecosystems
  • Pristine environment
  • Suriname