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Helgoland Marine Research

Open Access

Trace element levels in fish from clean and polluted coastal marine sites in the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and North Sea

  • Nurit Kress,
  • Barak Herut,
  • Edna Shefer and
  • Hava Hornung
Helgoland Marine Research53:90530163.10152


The bioaccumulation of Hg, Cd, Zn, Cu, Mn and Fe was evaluated in the muscle and liver tissue of four fish species (Siganus rivulatus, Diplodus sargus, Lithognatus mormyrus and Plathychtis flesus) from clean and polluted marine coastal sites in the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea and North Sea within the framework of the MARS 1 program. Representative liver samples were screened for organic contaminants (DDE, PCBs and PAHs) which exhibited very low concentrations. The levels of Cd, Cu, Zn, Fe and Mn found in the muscle tissue in this study were similar among the four species and within the naturally occurring metal ranges. However, differences were found among the sites. In the Red Sea, Cu was higher in the muscle of S. rivulatus at Ardag and Zn at the Observatory (OBS). Cu, Zn and Mn were higher in the Red Sea than in the specimens from the Mediterranean. The differences were attributed to different diets derived from distinctively different natural environments. D. sargus from Haifa Bay (HB) had higher Cd, Cu and Mn values than specimens from Jaffa (JFA), and L. mormyrus higher Cd, Fe and Mn in HB, corresponding to the polluted environmental status of the Bay. No differences in metal levels were found among the North Sea sites, except for Fe that was lower at the Eider station. Hg was low in all the specimens, but the values varied with species and sites. The lowest Hg values were found in S. rivulatus, the herbivorous species, as expected from its trophic level. Hg in P. flesus was higher than in S. rivulatus but still low. Higher Hg values were found in the muscle tissue of L. mormyrus,with the highest values in D. sargus, both carnivorous species from the same family. Hg in D. sargus was higher in HB than in JFA, as expected, but in the larger specimens of L. mormyrus from JFA values were higher, while in the small specimens there were no differences in Hg values. The levels of all metals were higher in the liver than in the muscle, with enrichment factors ranging from 3 to 104, depending on species and sites. The lowest enrichment values were found for Hg. Based on liver values, the specimens of S. rivulatus from the OBS had the highest levels, as well as D. sargus and L. mormyrus from JFA, contrary to the known relative environmental status of the sites.

Key words Trace elementsBioaccumulationOrganic contaminantsFish