Marine ecotoxicology is the study of the harmful effects of chemical pollutants on marine organisms and ecosystems such as corals, fish, oysters, mangroves and microalgae.
Significant proportions of pollutants from the Great Barrier Reef’s catchment reach the in-shore waters of the GBR during the intense flooding events that dominate north Queensland rainfall and river flows. Nitrogen levels in flood plumes are between 10 to 100 times higher than normal marine concentrations.
Coastal waters are also at risk from pollution derived from normal ship operations (such as waste disposal, vessel sewage, introduction of marine pests through ballast water and hull fouling, toxic compounds released from anti-fouling paints) and pollution caused by shipping accidents (such as vessel groundings and oil spills).
Apart from directly killing marine organisms, pollutants have the potential to cause sub-lethal effects such as disrupting symbioses and interfering with chemical cues responsible for key biological processes, including reproduction and recruitment.