Integrated chemical exposure assessment of coastal green turtle foraging grounds on the Great Barrier Reef

C. Gallen*, A.L. Heffernan, S. Kaserzon, G. Dogruer, S. Samanipour, M.J. Gomez-Ramos, J.F. Mueller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


The Great Barrier Reef receives run-off from 424,000 km2 catchment area across coastal Queensland, incorporating diffuse agricultural run-off, and run-off point sources of land-based chemical pollutants from urban and industrial development. Marine biota, such as green turtles (Chelonia mydas), are exposed to these diverse chemical mixtures in their natural environments, and the long term effects on turtle and ecosystem health remain unknown. This study was part of a larger multi-disciplinary project characterising anthropogenic chemical exposures from the marine environment and turtle health. The aim of this study was to screen for a wide range of anthropogenic chemical pollutants present in the external and internal environment of green turtles, using a combination of traditional targeted chemical analyses, non-target suspect screening, and effect-based bioassay methods, while employing a case-control study design. A combination of passive (water) and grab (water, sediment) samples were investigated. Three known green turtle foraging sites were selected for sampling: two coastal ‘case’ sites influenced primarily by urban/industrial and agricultural activities, respectively; and a remote, offshore ‘control’ site. Water and sediment samples from each of the three sampling locations showed differences in chemical pollutant profiles that reflected the dominant land uses in the adjacent catchment. Targeted mass spectrometric analysis for a range of pesticides, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and personal care products found the greatest detection frequency and highest concentrations in coastal samples, compared to the control. Non-target screening analysis of water showed clear differentiation in chemical profile of the urban/industrial site. In-vitro assays of sediment samples from the control site had lowest induction, compared to coastal locations, as expected. Here we present evidence that turtles foraging in coastal areas are exposed to a range of anthropogenic pollutants derived from the adjacent coastal catchment areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-409
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Chemical exposure
  • Exposure assessment marine wildlife
  • Green turtle
  • High resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS)
  • Passive sampling


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