People, Environment

Manmade Chemicals Latest Threat to Barrier Reef

Manmade Chemicals Latest Threat to Barrier ReefManmade Chemicals Latest Threat to Barrier Reef

Scientists have uncovered a shocking new threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef in the form of human medications and pesticides found in sea turtles.

A team led by the University of Queensland found a complex cocktail of chemicals in the blood of coastal turtles tested at two sites, reported.

They compared the results to those collected from "control" sea turtles at locations further afield, far from any human sources.

What they discovered was alarming—high traces of medications used to treat heart disease and gout, agriculture pesticides and even metals and lubricants.

“We found turtles from the two coastal areas recorded a long list of chemicals associated with human activities, including medication to treat gout, kidney stones and heart problems,” said Amy Heffernan from the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences.

“We also found the turtles had ingested chemicals used in industrial products such as adhesive, sealant and lubricant.”

The harmful health effects that these types of chemicals have had on the turtles is “distressing”, Heffernan said.

Scientists found evidence of liver dysfunction and inflammation, she said.

“What you put down your sink, spray on your farms or release from industries ends up in the marine environment and in turtles in the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.

The findings show the number of challenges the World Heritage-listed Reef is facing.

Experts have repeated warnings about an unprecedented ongoing bleaching event that has already wiped out an estimated 600 kilometers of coral.

Bleaching is caused by rising ocean temperatures, which kills food-generating organisms inside the coral.

The 2,300-kilometer stretch of reef is home to an array of marine life, from fish to molluscs and some 300 species of coral.

The UQ study, part of the Rivers to Reef to Turtles project led by WWF-Australia, could point to a bigger danger to the barrier reef from chemicals that wind up in the sea.

“The project has revealed to people that the chemicals humans manufacture wind up in the sea and are absorbed by marine life,” WWF-Australia Spokesman Christine Hof said.

“Turtles could be used as a bio-monitoring tool to reveal which chemicals are entering Great Barrier Reef waters and how they are impacting wildlife.”

There are more than 130 million chemicals registered in the world, with approximately 15,000 new chemicals registered every day, or one every six seconds—meaning databases for environmental contaminants cannot keep up.

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