WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11: It’s hard to believe that Bermuda, with its gorgeous blue water and lovely breezes, has a pollution problem. But it does. For twelve years my colleagues and I have been studying how environmental contaminants have been affecting wildlife here.
It’s been an extensive detective story, with very disturbing results. Our studies have revealed that sediments in at least 17 ponds in Bermuda contain toxic levels of petroleum hydrocarbons, including several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and a variety of heavy metals. By toxic I mean that many of these contaminants are at levels known to adversely affect the reproduction and development of aquatic animals that inhabit these ponds.
This is bad news for our two species of endemic killifish, which are found only in Bermuda, and our native diamondback terrapins. All three species are on our protected species list because we were concerned about their survival even before this new knowledge about pollution’s effects.
We have determined that the current sources of these contaminants include vehicle emissions and stormwater run-off from roadways. Thus, each one of us who uses a vehicle contributes to the problem. And, while metals and hydrocarbons may be the most toxic pollutants we’re finding, they are not the only contaminants in our ponds.
We also found trace amounts of 24 pharmaceuticals and personal care products and 28 newer generation pesticides in the three ponds tested. It is obvious that what we flush down the toilet or apply to our plants and crops doesn’t necessarily stay put, but moves with the groundwater to a nearby low-lying wetland area.
The first hint that pollution was affecting local wildlife came with our finding a high incidence of deformities in our cane toads in 2000. Our subsequent laboratory and field investigations have since linked exposure to and accumulation of hydrocarbons and metals to a host of adverse effects in local species including: 1) developmental deformities in toads and killifish, 2) abnormal ovaries and testes in toads, red-eared slider terrapins and killifish, 3) impaired reproduction and endocrine disruption in killifish [in our case contaminants are preventing or altering the synthesis of reproductive hormones], 4) endocrine disruption in toads and red-eared sliders, 5) liver pathologies [e.g. lesions, necrotic areas, tumors] in adult toads and red-eared sliders due to contaminants in the food chain, and 6) suppressed immune function in toads. The fact that we are seeing such profound effects in three classes of vertebrates (fish, amphibians and reptiles) is very significant and very concerning. Bermuda’s effects certainly have caught the attention of the international scientific community since our findings for amphibian deformities and endocrine disruption in wildlife are among the most significant cases reported globally.
Our environment is sending us a clear message. For the health of all of Bermuda’s inhabitants, it’s time to reduce the amount of air and water pollution we create. So what can we do to help the environment and simultaneously be more supportive of human health?
Reducing vehicle emissions is a start, and Government’s implementation of regulations that will cause vehicles with the highest emissions to fail TCD inspection will help. Encouraging the use of electric vehicles or vehicles powered by natural gas is even better, though these efforts require changes in our infrastructure.
Additionally, better management of storm water will be essential to reduce the flow of contaminants into the ponds from road run-off. To assist, my colleagues and I are primed to create a master plan for handling stormwater in critical habitats, and to determine safe but effective strategies for the remediation of ponds. We also want to see how other species, such as herons that feed in ponds, are being affected. And we need to learn more about what is causing the endocrine disruption so we can ensure that humans aren’t at risk.
Unfortunately, our greatest current challenge is funding. For the past several years we have received generous private donations and significant grants from the Departments of Conservation Services and Environmental Protection. We’ve worked very closely with these two government departments and have been very grateful for their support. However, due to budget cuts, we are now actively seeking additional funds from the community in order to keep the project going.
If you would like to support the project or would like further information, please contact me at 299-2323 ext. 2103, 735-9630 or email email@example.com. Alternatively, visit https://bamz.org/, click on Conservation, then Amphibian Project, then ‘Donate to this Project’.Dr Jamie Bacon is a Research Associate with the Bermuda Zoological Society and has been the Principal Investigator for the Amphibian Project since 2000.