Algarve Coast

Study finds heavy metals and microplastics in Algarve sea

Researchers studied coastline from Sagres to Portimão

Heavy metals and microplastics are just some of the pollutants detected on the continental shelf off the Algarve.

So says as an international study led by researcher Pedro Costa, the University of Coimbra (UC) has announced today.

Human presence has left a polluting signature on the coastal area of the Algarve, with negative impact, for example, on the level of biodiversity,” said Costa, who works out of the Department of Earth Sciences at the Faculty of Science and Technology (FCTUC) at the university. 

A statement sent to Lusa explains that the “OnOff” project – which involves more than 20 researchers – carried out “the chronography of extreme events (such as tsunamis and storms) and the effects of human contamination” in this area of the Algarve, over the past 12,000 years.

The study “alerts to the impacts of anthropogenic pollution on the continental shelf off the Algarve”, says the FCTUC press release. “Heavy metals and organic contaminants were detected along the coastal area between Sagres and Portimão” – with the results of  research published in specialist magazine Marine Pollution Bulletin.

“The data obtained seems to indicate that in the 1960s there was a peak in pollution, but, curiously, in recent years, this pollution seems to be slowing down slightly, with the exception of the Arade river area, due to regular discharges“, Pedro Costa, co-author of the scientific article, says.

The study reports the presence of “various inorganic and organic pollutants related to human activity, among which are different heavy metals, and even microplastics”.

Due to climate change, “it is expected that we will have more high-energy events, either in precipitation or in storms, which will cause more intense erosive phenomena”.

“In Portugal, several areas are under pressure, which means this problem will inevitably become more acute. We have always had pollution, but with the changing climate and with the energy levels of these extreme events, phenomena that would be of little intensity may cause serious negative consequences and serious imbalances in coastal systems,” the FCTUC researcher continues.

Besides UC, “OnOff” involved the University of Lisbon, the University of Algarve, the Hydrographic Institute and the Portuguese Environment Agency, besides the University of Aachen (Germany) and the United States Geological Survey.

Called “Contemporary pollution of surface sediments from the Algarve shelf, Portugal”, the project, which began in 2018, “essentially aims to fully reconstruct extreme events, such as tsunamis and storms, and their impacts on the Portuguese coast, based on geological evidence”.

“In other words, it seeks to get information from the underwater seabed to carry out the reconstruction of extreme events, whether of tsunamis, storms or floods, and also of more recent phenomena, such as pollution,” explains Costa.

To do this, scientists carried out “a series of sea campaigns”, with underwater soundings, along the Algarve coast, collecting water samples, sediments and geophysical data between 500 and 30 metres deep.

“This is the innovative aspect of the project because it shows a different archive that was not normally paid attention to and allowed for a detailed reconstruction of the evolution of this region. 

“The information obtained at sea is combined with data obtained on land, in lagoon and estuary areas of the Algarve”, says Costa.

“OnOff” can (and presumably hopes to) support “government authorities with useful data for planning, organisation and operationalisation”, he added.

The project is funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), the European Union and the Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Source: LUSA