Porites corals as recorders of mining and environmental impacts: Misima Island, Papua New Guinea

Stewart J. Fallon*, Jamie C. White, Malcolm T. McCulloch

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    182 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    In 1989 open-cut gold mining commenced on Misima Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Open-cut mining by its nature causes a significant increase in sedimentation via the exposure of soils to the erosive forces of rain and runoff. This increased sedimentation affected the nearby fringing coral reef to varying degrees, ranging from coral mortality (smothering) to relatively minor short-term impacts. The sediment associated with the mining operation consists of weathered quartz feldspar, greenstone, and schist. These rocks have distinct chemical characteristics (rare earth element patterns and high abundances of manganese, zinc, and lead) and are entering the near-shore environment in considerably higher than normal concentrations. Using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), we analyzed eight colonies (two from high sedimentation, two transitional, two minor, and two unaffected control sites) for Y, La, Ce, Mn, Zn, and Pb. All sites show low steady background levels prior to the commencement of mining in 1988. Subsequently, all sites apart from the control show dramatic increases of Y, La, and Ce associated with the increased sedimentation as well as rapid decreases following the cessation of mining. The elements Zn and Pb exhibit a different behavior, increasing in concentration after 1989 when ore processing began and one year after initial mining operations. Elevated levels of Zn and Pb in corals has continued well after the cessation of mining, indicating ongoing transport into the reef of these metals via sulfate-rich waters. Rare earth element (REE) abundance patterns measured in two corals show significant differences compared to Coral Sea seawater. The corals display enrichments in the light and middle REEs while the heavy REEs are depleted relative to the seawater pattern. This suggests that the nearshore seawater REE pattern is dominated by island sedimentation. Trace element abundances of Misima Island corals clearly record the dramatic changes in the environmental conditions at this site and provide a basis for identifying anthropogenic influences on corals reefs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)45-62
    Number of pages18
    JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
    Volume66
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2002

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