Health & Science

HBOI Study Links IRL Fish Consumption and Elevated Mercury Levels in People

Scientists at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) analyzed hair samples to determine mercury concentrations of 135 residents living along the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) and found that individuals who reported eating locally-caught seafood one or more times per day are nearly four times more likely to have a mercury concentration above the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended daily dose for human health.

Researchers began the study after finding high levels of mercury in IRL Atlantic bottlenose dolphins - they are considered a "sentinel species" because they are long lived, have defined home ranges and consume some of the same fish species as humans.

"The dolphins were a sort of 'canary in the coal mine' for us," said Adam Schaefer, HBOI epidemiologist and one of the lead scientists on the project. "This study shows how a sentinel animal can help identify a public health hazard. Now this information can be used to develop interventions to reduce exposure among high risk groups, particularly pregnant women." The key interventions include education regarding general guidelines for seafood consumption and specific species of fish that should be avoided during pregnancy.

Results from the peer-reviewed study are published in this month's edition of the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health. Click here to read the full paper.  

Mercury is a global environmental pollutant that causes adverse health effects, particularly on neurodevelopment in the fetus. Human exposure to mercury comes primarily from the consumption of fish and shellfish. In Florida, adults consume significantly more seafood on average when compared to the general population of the United States. 

  Click here to watch WPTV's story on the study.


Farrington Participates in NOAA Cruise

FAU Harbor Branch scientist Stephanie Farrington was recently on board the NOAA ship Nancy Foster for two weeks, to survey the never-before-observed shelf-edge Marine Protected Areas from North Florida to North Carolina. These sites provide Essential Fish Habitat and are breeding grounds for many species of grouper and snapper.  Using multibeam sonar and ROV video transects,  each site is thoroughly described to provide baseline data on the habitat, fauna, and fish populations.  These data may then be used in the future to see the efficacy of these newly designated protected areas. 

Click here to learn more about this research.


 Last Modified 1/16/14