Scientia Marina, Vol 77, No S1 (2013)

Copper in Galician ria sediments: natural levels and harbour contamination

Ana García
Marine Research Institute, CSIC , Spain

Patricia Bernárdez
Marine Research Institute, CSIC , Spain

Ricardo Prego
Marine Research Institute, CSIC , Spain


Copper distribution, natural background and contamination levels in sediments of the Galician rias were assessed from 389 surface sediment samples and five sediment cores. The natural reference concentration of copper can be estimated using the Cu-Fe relationship obtained from preindustrial sediments of rias: [Cu (mg kg–1)] / [Fe (g kg–1)] = 0.55. Severe copper contamination was mainly observed in the harbour, fishing ports and shipyards near shore areas of the Galician coast. Therefore, the rias of Ferrol and Vigo were the most environmentally disturbed, while the northern Galician rias were the least disturbed. The Galician case can be seen as the type of copper contamination due to maritime activities observed in other world harbours.


metal; sediment; background concentrations; harbour; ria; NW Iberian Peninsula

Full Text:



Bryan G.W., Langston W.J. 1992. Bioavailability, accumulation and effects of heavy metals in sediments with special reference to United Kingdom estuaries: a review. Environ. Pollut. 76: 89-131.

Byrkit D. R. 1975. Elements of statistics, 2nd ed. D. Van Nostrand, New York, 431 pp.

Carballeira A., Carral E., Puente X., Villares R. 2000. Regional-scale monitoring of coastal contamination. Nutrients and heavy metals in estuarine sediments and organisms on the coast of Galicia (northwest Spain). Int. J. Environ. Pollut. 13: 534-572.

Chen C.-W., Kao C.-M., Chen C.-F., Dong C.-D. 2007. Distribution and accumulation of heavy metals in the sediments of Kaohsiung Harbor, Taiwan. Chemosphere 66: 1431-1440. PMid:17113128

Chon-Lin L., Meng-Der F., Ming-Tsuen H. 1998. Characterization and distribution of metals in surficial sediments in Southwestern Taiwan. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 36: 464-471.

Cobelo-García A., Prego R. 2003a. Heavy metal sedimentary record in a Galician Ria (NW Spain): background values and recent contamination. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 46: 1253-1262.

Cobelo-García A., Prego R. 2003b. Land inputs, behaviour and contamination levels of copper in a ria estuary (NW Spain). Mar. Environ. Res. 56: 403-422.

Cobelo-García A., Prego R. 2004. Influence of point sources on trace metal contamination and distribution in a semi-enclosed industrial embayment: The Ferrol Ria (NW Spain). Est. Coast. Shelf. Sci. 60: 695-703.

deCastro M., Gómez-Gesteira M., Prego R., Álvarez I. 2004. Ria- Ocean exchange driven by tides in the Ria Ferrol (NW Spain). Est. Coast. Shelf Sci. 61: 15-24.

Desprat S., Sanchez-Goñi M.F., Loutre M.-F. 2003. Revealing climatic variability of the last three millennia in northwestern Iberia using pollen influx data. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 213: 63-78.

Durán I., Beiras R. 2010. Assessment criteria for using the sea-urchin embryo test with sediment elutriates as a tool to classify the ecotoxicological status of marine water bodies. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 29: 1192-1198. PMid:20821557

EPA. 1996. Method 3052. Microwave assisted acid digestion of siliceous and organically based matrices.

Evans G., Prego R. 2003. Rias, estuaries and incised valleys: is a ria an estuary? Mar. Geol. 196: 171-175.

Fatoki O.S. Mathabatha S. 2001. An assessment of heavy metal pollution in the East London and Port Elizabeth harbours, Water SA 27: 233-240.

Feng H., Cochram K., Lwiza H., Brownawell B.J., Hirschberg D.J. 1998. Distribution of heavy metal and PCB contaminants in the sediments of an urban estuary: the Hudson River. Mar. Environ. Res. 45: 69-88.

Fernández N., Lorenzo I., Beiras R. 2008. Integrative assessment of coastal pollution in a Ría coastal system (Galicia, NW Spain): Correspondence between sediment chemistry and toxicity. Chemosphere 72: 826-835. PMid:18377949

Fichet D., Boucher G., Radenac G., Miramand P. 1999. Concentration and mobilisation of Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn by meiofauna populations living in harbour sediment: their role in the heavy metal flux from sediment to food web. Sci. Total Environ. 243/244: 263-272.

Förstner U. 1987. Sediment-associated contaminants. An overview of basis for developing remedial options. Hydrobiologia 149: 221-246.

Galanopoulou S., Vgenopoulos A., Conispoliatis N. 2009 Anthropogenic heavy metal pollution in the surficial sediments of the Keratsini Harbor, Saronikos Gulf, Greece. Water Air Soil Pollut. 202: 121-130.

Gómez-Gesteira M., deCastro M., Prego R., Martíns F. 2002. Influence of the Barrie de la Maza Dock on the Circulation Pattern of the Ría of A Coruña (NW - Spain). Sci. Mar. 66: 337-346.

Guerra-García J.M., García-Gómez J. C. 2005. Assessing pollution levels in sediments of a harbor with two opposing entrances. Environmental implications. J. Environ. Manage. 77: 1-11. PMid:15946788

Guevara-Riba A., Sahuquillo A., Rubio R., Rauret G. 2004. Assessment of metal mobility in dredged harbour sediments from Barcelona, Spain. Sci. Total Environ. 321: 241-255. PMid:15050399

Guitian F. 1992. Atlas geoquímico de Galicia. Xunta de Galicia, Santiago de Compostela.

Hakanson L. 1980. An ecological risk index for aquatic pollution control. A sedimentological approach. Water Res. 14: 975-1001.

Hanson P.J., Evans D.W., Colby D.R., Zdanowicz V.S. 1993. Assessment of elemental contamination in estuarine and coastal environments based on geochemical and statistical modeling of sediments. Mar. Environ. Res. 36: 237-266.

He, Z., Morrison R.J. 2001. Changes in the Marine Environment of Port Kembla Harbour, NSW, Australia, 1975–1995: A Review. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 42: 193-201.

Kennish M.J. 1992. Ecology of estuaries: Anthropogenic effects. CRC Press, Boca Raton.

Kilemade M., Hartl M.G.J., Sheehan D., Mothersill C., van Pelt F.N.A.M., O'Brien N.M., O'Halloran J. 2004. An assessment of the pollutant status of surficial sediment in Cork Harbour in the South East of Ireland with particular reference to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 49: 1084-1096. PMid:15556196

Klapow L.A., Lewis R.H. 1979. Analysis of toxicity data for California marine water quality standards. J. Water Pollut. Control Fed. 51: 2051-2070.

Long E.R., Macdonald D.D., Smith S.L., Calder F.D. 1995. Incidence of adverse biological effects within ranges of chemical concentrations in marine and estuarine sediments. Environ. Manage. 19 (1): 81-97.

Macías-Zamora J.V., Villaescusa-Celaya J.A., Muñoz-Barbosa A., Gold-Bouchot G. 1999. Trace metals in sediment cores from the Campeche shelf, Gulf of Mexico. Environ. Pollut. 104, (1): 69-77.

Mason, R.P., Kim E.H., Cornwell J. 2004. Metal accumulation in Baltimore Harbor: current and past inputs. App. Geochem. 19: 1801-1825.

McCready S., Birch G.F., Long E.R. 2006. Metallic and organic contaminants in sediments of Sydney Harbour, Australia and vicinity – A chemical dataset for evaluating sediment quality guidelines. Environ. Int. 32: 455-465. PMid:16337000

Müller-Karulis B., Poikane R., Seglins V. 2003. Heavy metals in the Vent spills harbour: normalization based on a multi-parameter dataset, Environ. Geol. 43: 445-456.

Muñiz P., Danulat E. Yannicelli B., García-Alonso A., Medina G., Bícego M.C. 2004. Assessment of contamination by heavy metals and petroleum hydrocarbons in sediments of Montevideo Harbour (Uruguay). Environ. Int. 29: 1019-1028.

Muohi A., Onyari J.M., Omondi J.G., Mavuti K.M. 2003. Heavy metals in sediments from Makupa and Port-Reitz Creek systems: Kenyan Coast. Environ. Int. 28: 639-647.

Orlic I., Tang S.M. 1999. Elemental depth profiles in marine sediments of Singapore coastal waters. Nucl. Instrum. Meth. B 150: 291-297.

Owen R.B., Sandhu N. 2000. Heavy metal accumulation and anthropogenic impacts on Tolo Harbour, Hong Kong, Mar. Pollut. Bull. 40: 174-180.

Paetzel M., Nes G., Leifsen L.O., Schrader H. 2003. Sediment pollution in the Vägen, Bergen harbour, Norway. Environ. Geol. 43: 476-483.

Pena L.D., Francés G., Diz P., Esparza M., Grimalt J.O., Nombela M.A. 2010. Climate fluctuations during the Holocene in NW Iberia: high and low latitudes linkages. Cont. Shelf Res. 30: 1487-1496.

Poulton D.J., Morris W.A., Coakley J.P. 1996. Zonation of contaminated bottom sediments in Hamilton Harbour as defined by statistical classification techniques, Water Qual. Res. J. Canada 31: 505-528.

Prego R., Cobelo-García A. 2003. 20th Century overview of heavy metals in the Galician Rias (NW Iberian Peninsula). Environ. Pollut. 121: 425-452.

Prego R., Dale A.W., deCastro M., Gómez-Gesteira M., Taboada J.J., Montero P., Ruiz-Villareal M., Pérez-Villar V. 2001. Hydrography of the Pontevedra Ria: Intra-Annual spatial and temporal variability in an Galician Coastal system (NW Spain). J. Geophys. Res. 106 (C9): 19845-19858.

Prego R., Ferro P., Trujillo C. 2008a. Lead and Zinc contamination of surface sediments in the main harbours of the Galician Rias. J. Iberian Geol. 34 (2): 243-252.

Prego R., Filgueiras A.V., Santos-Echeandía J. 2008b. Temporal and spatial changes of total and labile metal concentration in the surface sediments of the Vigo Ria (NW Iberian Peninsula): Influence of anthropogenic sources. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 56: 1022-1042. PMid:18334256

Santos-Echeandía J., Laglera L.M., Prego R., Van den Berg C.M.G. 2008. Copper speciation in continental inputs to the Vigo Ria: Sewage discharges versus river fluxes. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 56: 308-317. PMid:18054368

Scheinberg I.H. – 1991. Copper. In: E. Merian (ed.), Metals and their compounds in the environment. Wiley VCH Wienheim, pp. 803-851.

Schiff K., Diehl D., Valkirs A. 2004. Copper emissions from antifouling paint on recreational vessels. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 48: 371-377. PMid:14972590

Seligman P.F. Valkirs A.O., Caso J.S., Rivera-Duarte I., Haslbeck E. 2001. Copper release rates from antifouling marine coatings and their relationship to loading and toxicity in San Diego Bay, CA. In: M.A. Champ (ed.), Symposium on Pollution Prevention from Ships and Shipyards. Oceanology International 2001 Conference. Miami, FL, pp. 64-81.

Sobral P., Widdows J. 1997. Effects of copper exposure on the scope for growth of the clam Ruditapes decussatus from southern Portugal. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 34: 992-1000.

Tanner P.A., Leong L.S., Pan S.M. 2000. Contamination of heavy metals in marine sediment cores from Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 40: 769-779.

Torre-Enciso E. 1958. Estado actual del conocimiento de las rías. In: Homenaxe a Otero Pedrayo. Galaxia, Vigo, pp. 237-250

Turner A. 2010. Marine pollution from antifouling paint particles. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 60: 159-171. PMid:20060546

Valkirs A.O., Seligman P.F. Haslbeck E., Caso J.S. 2003. Measurement of copper release rates from antifouling paint under laboratory and in-situ conditions: implications for loading estimation to marine water bodies. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 46: 763-779.

Varela M., Prego R., Pazos Y., Moroño A. 2005. Influence of upwelling and river runoff interaction of phytoplankton assemblages in a Middle Galician Ria ans comparison with northern and southern rias (NW Iberian Peninsula). Est., Coast. Shelf Sci. 64: 721-737.

Vilas F., Bernabeu A.M., Mendez G. 2005. Sediment distribution pattern in the Rias Baixas (NW Spain): main facies and hydrodynamic dependence. J. Mar. Syst. 54: 261-276.

Wedepohl K.H. – 1991. The composition of the upper earth's crust and the natural cycles of select metals. In: E. Merian (ed.), Metals and their compounds in the environment. Willey VCH, Wienheim, pp. 3-17.

Wolanski E. 2006. The Environment en Asia Pacific Harbours. Springer, Amsterdam.

Copyright (c) 2013 Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Contact us

Technical support