Ecotoxicological monitoring of coastal marine environment

Posidonia oceanica

Posidonia oceanica
This line of research has proposed and is intended to carry out environmental monitoring programs, based on the use of animal and plant (seagrass) bioindicators, to assess the potential ecotoxicological impact related to various anthropogenic activities in Mediterranean coastal marine areas. Estimation of "coastal environmental health status" is achieved both by assessing the levels of key anthropogenic environmental contaminants and by using biomarkers as a diagnostic/prognostic tool of environmental quality.
Use of biomarkers, biochemical, metabolic and cellular in bioindicators of coastal environments (fish and invertebrates), for toxicological risk assessment from anthropogenic pollutant compounds (xenobiotics, PAHs, Heavy Metals). In particular, the following three integrated approaches were developed:
1) Use of a "Multi-Trial-Biomarker-Approach" in Carcinus aestuari for ecotoxicological health status assessment of lagoon environments. Sampling was carried out in 5 areas of the Orbetello Lagoon with different anthropogenic impacts: S. Liberata (a connecting channel between the lagoon and the open sea); Sitoco (a former pesticide factory); the Orbetello wastewater treatment plant; the aquaculture site; and the Albegna River estuary.
Assessing the presence and effects of pollutants from point sources in the local area requires the selection of species with restricted mobility. Carcinus aestuari has a restricted "home range" and, like other sessile organisms, provides point source information of the level of contamination in a given area. A similar survey was also carried out in the Venice Lagoon.
2) Use of a "Multi-Trial-Biomarker-Approach" in Mugil cephalus for ecotoxicological health status assessment of coastal environments. Sampling was carried out in 5 coastal areas of the Ligurian Sea and upper Tyrrhenian Sea characterized by a different type of anthropogenic impact: Port area with high vessel traffic: Genoa; Area with aquaculture activities and high anthropogenic impact: La Spezia; Port areas with high industrial activity:
Piombino and Vada (Livorno); Lagoon area: Orbetello (Grosseto). The selected bioindicator organism, i.e., Mugil cephalus, is considered particularly suitable for defining the level of contamination of coastal areas characterized by different anthropogenic impact, both because of its mobility characteristics (mid-range indicator) and because of its high frequency in highly anthropized areas.
3) Monitoring plan for dredging activities in the Fornelli Pier and the evolution basin of thePort of La Spezia. Environmental monitoring plan, based on the use of biomarkers and the assessment of contaminant levels in fish bioindicators, for the evaluation of the potential ecotoxicological impact related to ongoing dredging activities in specific areas of the La Spezia harbor roadstead. Monitoring was carried out from 2003 until 2010. The sea bass
(Dicentrarchus labrax) was chosen as the bioindicator species: specimens of this species were taken periodically from an off-shore fish farm located within the Gulf of la Spezia (Lavagna control area). Biomarkers analyzed: induction of mixed-function monooxygenase (MFO) system by ethoxyresorufin-o-deethylase (Erod) metabolites of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in bile and accumulation of hepatic porphyrins, antioxidant enzymes, comet
assay, ENA assay . Contaminants analyzed: OCs, PAHs, trace elements.
Posidonia oceanica meadows constitute one of the "climax" of the Mediterranean and one of the most productive ecosystems of the coastal strip. Precisely because of this, they are subject to continuous impacts of both chemical and mechanical nature by anthropogenic activities. This study proposes posidonia as an organism to be used for coastal ecotoxicological monitoring, using biomarkers as a diagnostic and prognostic tool. In this
way, indications of the health status of posidonia meadows can be provided as an indicator signal of potential damage at the ecosystem level. The biomarkers on which attention is focused are mainly based on the study of protein responses. They include:
Activity of antioxidant enzyme systems, proposed as biomarkers of oxidative stress induced by many classes of contaminants. Oxidative responses used as biomarkers are those of the adaptive type such as increased activities of enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and peroxidase.
Mixed-Function Monooxygenase activities induced by fat-soluble contaminants, in particular NADPH cytochrome C reductase, ethoxycoumarin-O-deethylase (ECOD), various isoforms of cytochrome P450 were used as biomarkers.
Evaluation of gene expression of some proteins.

  • Professor Michael H Depledge, Chair of Environment and Human Health, European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School
  • Dr. Antonella Ausili, ISPRA, Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale, Roma
  • Prof. Maria Cristina Gambi, gruppo di Ecologia del Benthos (benthic ecology),Laboratorio di Ecologia Funzionale ed Evolutiva, Stazione Zoologica "Anton Dohrn" di Napoli, Ischia (Napoli, Italy).
  • Progetto CEE dal titolo: “Evaluation of harmfull effects of pollutants in marine ecosystems using biomarkers”. (EV5V-CT94-0398) Partecipanti: University of Reading (Prof. C.H. Walker, coordinator), University of Siena (Dr. M.Cristina Fossi), University of  Plymouth (Prof. M. Depledge). (1994-1996)
  • Progetto ICRAM - Ministero dell’Ambiente dal titolo: Biocephalus: Messa a punto di biomarkers per la valutazione dell’esposizione ed effetto a composti inquinanti in aree costiere mediterranee. (Responsabile scientifico Prof. M.C. Fossi).(2001)
  • Progetto PRIN  Ministero dell’Università e della Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica dal titolo: Determinazione degli indici biologici di stress in mugilidi di ambienti salmastri ad alto e basso impatto antropico. Prot. 2001058987_004. (Responsabile scientifico Prof. S. Fasulo). (2001-2003)
  • Progetto in collaborazione con l’Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale ISPRA per il monitoraggio ecotossicologico dell’area portuale di La Spezia. (2007-2009).
  • Progetto ISPRA dal titolo: “Individuazione degli effetti dell’eventuale dispersione della contaminazione sugli organismi marini mediante l’applicazione di un set di biomarker in grado di indicare l’insorgenza di alterazioni e di correlarle con il livello di bioaccumulo dei contaminanti nei tessuti. (Responsabile scientifico Prof. M.C. Fossi). 2010 – 2011
  • Progetto Greenpeace per svolgere analisi di alcuni contaminanti quali Bisfenolo A (BPA), Idrocarburi Policiclici Aromatici (IPA) ed elementi in tracce (Pb, Hg, Cd, As e Cr) in campioni di sogliola comune (Solea vulgaris), prelevati in 5 diverse aree del Mar Ligure e del Mar Tirreno. (Responsabile Scientifico Dr. Letizia Marsili). 2010.
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  6. Casini S., Aurigi S., Fossi M.C., Monaci F., Focardi S. (2000) Evaluation of environmental quality for the management of brackish wetlands: use of bioindicators and biomarkers in the Pontine lakes. In “Mediterranean Ecosystem: structure and processes”, Editors: Faranda F.M., Guglielmo L., Spezie G., Springer, Milano, 65-70
  7. Casini S., Fossi M.C., Mori G., Bjornstad A. (2002) Vitellogenin induction in Cyprinus carpio treated with 17β-estradiol and 4-nonylphenol. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 75:235-239.
  8. Minutoli R., Fossi M. C. Casini S., Ancora S., Manganaro A., Guglielmo L. (2004) Biomarker approach in the zooplanktonic copepod A. Latisetosa: A potential indicator of “health status” of different lagoon areas. Marine Environmental Research 58:320.
  9. Bucalossi D., Leonzio C., Casini S., Fossi M.C., Marsili L., Ancora S., Scali M. (2006). Application of a suite of  biomarkers in Posidonia oceanica to assess the ecotoxicological impact on the coastal environment. Marine Environmental Research, 62(1):327-331
  10. MINUTOLI R., FOSSI M. C., ZAGAMI G., GRANATA A., CASINI S. & GUGLIELMO L. (2008).  First application of biomarkers approach in the zooplanktonic copepod Acartia latisetosa for the early management and conservation of transitional waters ecosystems. In  Transitional Water Bullettin 1, 45-52.



Stefania Ancora (tecnico laureato cat. D)