Pollution (EO 9)

Common Indicator 18:  Level of pollution effects of key contaminants where a cause and effect relationship has been established

Geographical scale of the assessment:
Regional, Mediterranean Sea
Contributing countries:
Contracting Parties by research studies
Mid-Term Strategy (MTS) Core Theme:
1-Land and Sea Based Pollution
Ecological Objective:
EO9. Contaminants cause no significant impact on coastal and marine ecosystems and human health
IMAP Common Indicator:
CI18. Level of pollution effects of key contaminants where a cause and effect relationship has been established
Indicator Assessment Factsheet Code:

GES Definition: Concentrations of contaminants are not giving rise to acute pollution events  

GES Targets:

  • State: Contaminants effects below threshold;
  • State: Decreasing trend in the operational releases of oil and other contaminants from coastal, maritime and off-shore activities.



In most Mediterranean countries, the coastal monitoring of a range of chemicals and biological effects parameters in different marine ecosystem compartments and organisms are undertaken in response to the UNEP/MAP Barcelona Convention (1975) and its Land-Based Sources (LBS) Protocol. A considerable amount of founding actions from the past decades are available through the pollution monitoring and assessment component of the UNEP/MAP MED POL Programme, including monitoring pilot programmes to monitor ecotoxicological effects of contaminants (UNEP/MAP MED POL, 1997a, 1997b; UNEP/RAMOGE, 1999).

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Assessment methods   

The present assessment has been mainly constructed based on the current status of bibliographic studies and scientific documents published in the Mediterranean Sea area, as the biological effects datasets through the MED POL Database are not yet fully available at a regional scale. The full assessment of the Common Indicator 18 will be based on the integrated evaluation of the biomarkers selected for their monitoring in the Mediterranean Sea, namely, Acetylcholinesterase activity (AChE), Lysosomal membrane stability (LMS) and Micronuclei frequencies (MN) on first instance.

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Results and Status, including trends

In the Mediterranean Sea, a number of different studies focusing in different marine species and organizational levels are being undertaken which should provide the basis for integrated assessments in marine pollution. However, a clear correlation related to sub lethal and chronic exposures of environmental trace concentrations of contaminants is difficult to achieve.

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The ongoing research developments and controversy with regard biological effects and toxicological methods (ca. confounding factors) is one of the main reasons for the slow implementation of these techniques in marine pollution monitoring programs in the Mediterranean Sea, although as mentioned, some are proposed within the framework of the MED POL Programme.

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Key messages 

  • Biological effects monitoring tools still in a research phase for biomarker techniques (i.e. method uncertainty assessments and confounding factors evaluations) which limits the implementation of these tools in the long-term marine monitoring networks.
  • Lysosomal Membrane Stability (LMS) as a method for general status screening, Αcetylcholinesterase (AChE) assay as a method for assessing neurotoxic effects and Micronucleus

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Benali, I., Boutiba, Z., et al. (2015). Integrated use of biomarkers and condition indices in mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) for monitoring pollution and development of biomarker index to assess the potential toxic of coastal sites. Mar. Poll. Bull., 95, 385-394.

Capó, X., Tejada, S. (2015). Oxidative status assessment of the endemic bivalve Pinna nobilisaffected by the oil spill from the sinking of the Don Pedro. Mar. Env. Res., 110, 19-24.

Campillo, J.A., Sevilla, A., et al. (2015). Metabolomic responses in caged clams, Ruditapesdecussatus, exposed to agricultural and urban inputs in a Mediterranean coastal lagoon (Mar Menor, SE Spain). Sci. Tot. Environ., 524-525, 136-147.

Cuevas, N., Zorita, I., Costa, P., Franco, J., Larreta, J. (2015). Development of histopathological indices in the digestive gland and gonad of mussels: integration with contamination levels and effects of confounding factors. AquaticToxicology, 162, 152-64.

Dailanis, S., Domouhtsidou, G.P., et al. (2003). Evaluation of neutral red retention assay,micronucleus test, acetylcholinesterase activityand a signal transduction molecule (cAMP) intissues of Mytilusgalloprovincialis (L.), inpollution monitoring. Mar. Env. Res. 56, 443-470.

De Castro-Català, N., Muñoz, I., et al. (2015). Invertebrate community responses to emerging water pollutants in Iberian river basins. Sci. Tot. Environ. 503-504, 142-150.

De los Ríos, A., Juanes, J.J., et al., (2012). Assessment of the effects of a marine urban outfall discharge on cagedmussels using chemical and biomarker analysis. Mar. Poll. Bull., 64, 563-573.

EU, European Commission (2014). Technical report on effect-based monitoring tools. Technical Report 2014 – 077. European Commission, 2014.

Fossi, M.C., Casini, S., et al. (2002). Biomarkers for endocrine disruptors in three species of Mediterranean large pelagic fish. Mar. Env. Res. 54, 667-671.

González-Fernández, C., Albentosa, M., Campillo, J.A., Viñas, L., Fumega, J., Franco, A., Besada, A., González-Quijano, A., Bellas, J., (2015a). Influence of mussel biological variability on pollution biomarkers. Environmental Research, 137, 14-31

González-Fernández, C., Albentosa, M., Campillo, J.A., Viñas, L., Romero, D., Franco, A., Bellas, J., 2015b. Effect of nutritive status on Mytilusgalloprovincialis pollution biomarkers: Implications for large-scale monitoring programs. Aquatic Toxicology, 167, 90-105.

ICES Cooperative Research Report. No.315. Integrated marine environmental monitoring of chemicals and their effects. I.M. Davies and D. Vethaak Eds., November, 2012

Louiz, I., Ben Hassine, O.K., et al. (2016). Spatial and temporal variation of biochemical biomarkers in Gobiusniger (Gobiidae) from a southern Mediterranean lagoon (Bizerta lagoon, Tunisia): Influence of biotic and abiotic factors. Mar. Poll. Bull., 107, 305-314.

Maisano, M., Cappello, T., et al. (2016). PCB and OCP accumulation and evidence of hepatic alteration in the Atlantic bluefin tuna, T. thynnus, from the Mediterranean Sea. Mar. Env. Res., 121, 40-48.

Marigómez, I., Zorita, I., et al. (2013b). Combined use of native and caged mussels to assess biological effectsof pollution through the integrative biomarker approach. Aquatic Toxicol. 136-137, 32-48.

Marigómez, I., Garmendia, L., et al. (2013a). Marine ecosystem health status assessment through integrativebiomarker indices: a comparative study after the Prestige oil spill‘‘Mussel Watch’’. Ecotoxicology, 22, 486-505.

Mezzelani, M., Gorbi, S., et al. (2016). Ecotoxicological potential of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs) in marine organisms: Bioavailability, biomarkers and natural occurrence in Mytilus galloprovincialis. Mar. Env. Res., 121, 31-39.

Minguez, L., Buronfosse, T., Beisel, J.N., Giambérini, L. (2012). Parasitism can be a confounding factor in assessing the response of zebra mussels to water contamination. Environmental Pollution, 162, 234-40

Prat, N., Rieradevall, M., et al. (2013). The combined use of metrics of biological quality and biomarkers to detect the effects of reclaimed water on macroinvertebrate assemblages in the lower part ofa polluted Mediterranean river (Llobregat River, NE Spain). Ecol. Ind., 24, 167-176.

Siscar, R, Varó, I, Solé, M. (2015). Hepatic and branchial xenobiotic biomarker responses in Soleaspp.from several NW Mediterranean fishing grounds. Mar. Env. Res., 112, 35-43.

Stambuk, A., Srut., M. (2013). Gene flow vs. pollution pressure: Genetic diversity of Mytillus galloprovincialis in eastern Adriatic. Aquatic Toxicol. 136-137, 22-31.

Tomasello, B, Copat, C., et al. (2012). Biochemical andbioaccumulationapproachesforinvestigatingmarinepollutionusingMediterraneanrainbowwrasse, Corisjulis (Linneaus 1798)

Tsangaris, C., Vanessa, M., et al. (2016). Biochemical biomarker responses to pollution in selected sentinel organisms across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Environ. Sci. Poll. Res., 23, 1789-1804. 

UNEP (1997a) Report of the Meeting of Experts to Review the MED POL Biomonitoring Programme. UNEP(OCA)/MED WG.132/7, Athens, 19 p.

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