Original Research

Is metal pollution a threat to the continued survival of the starfish in False Bay, South Africa?

Adriaan J. Reinecke, Sophie A. Reinecke
Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Natuurwetenskap en Tegnologie | Vol 32, No 1 | a394 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/satnt.v32i1.394 | © 2013 Adriaan J. Reinecke, Sophie A. Reinecke | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 December 2012 | Published: 09 October 2013

About the author(s)

Adriaan J. Reinecke, Botany and Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sophie A. Reinecke, Botany and Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

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Urbanisation and industrial development in the catchment area of False Bay in South Africa are increasing and concern was raised about the effect of environmental pollutants on intertidal fauna such as starfish. The aim of the present study was to obtain initial descriptive baseline data over several seasons during 2000–2001 of metal concentrations in water, sediment and body samples of the chosen cushion starfish Parvulastra exigua (Lamarck, 1816) that occurs widely in the intertidal zone of False Bay. Concentrations of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc were measured in samples of the cushion starfish, water and sediment at five localities along the coast of False Bay. The samples were chemically analysed for metals by atomic spectrophotometry. The highest individually measured concentrations of cadmium (Cd) in starfish and sediment were found in the northern coastal region between Strand and Muizenberg where most industrial activity and human settlement occur. Large variation in concentrations of all metals occurred between localities and seasons. The mean concentrations of Cd and Pb in water and sediment were in a few instances slightly higher than the recommended levels or target values of the South African marine water and sediment quality norms but still lower than those in various developed countries. Indications are that the bay was at the time of this study still less contaminated by metals in comparison with the coastal waters of various other countries. The accumulation of nonessential metals such as cadmium and lead in both sediment and bodies of starfish was nevertheless such that it can be assumed that environmental concentrations in some parts of the bay could over time build up to levels that are detrimental to the species as well as their predators. This study provided evidence that the cushion starfish in False Bay is exposed to several metals of which some are potentially hazardous since they tend to gradually accumulate in animal bodies. Risk assessment, however, requires additional information about the causal relationship between exposure and biological effects at the cellular, organismic and population levels before informed decisions can be made whether the threat to starfish is such that intervention is required.


Metals; bioaccumulation; marine pollution; starfish; Parvulastra. exigua.


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