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Environmental Advances

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Coastal mangrove forests provide a suite of environmental services, including sequestration of anthropogenic contamination. Yet, research lags on the environmental fate and potential human health risks of mangrove-sequestered contaminants in the context of mangrove removal for development and range shifts due to climate change. To address this, we conducted a study on Moloka'i, Hawai'i, comparing microplastic and pesticide contamination in coastal compartments both at areas modified by non-native red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) and unmodified, open coastline. Sediment, porewater, and mangrove plant tissues were collected to quantify microplastic and pesticide concentrations across ecosystem type. Average microplastics were similar between mangrove (8.89 items/kg) and non-mangrove areas (9.01 items/kg) in sediment and porewater, but mangrove roots were a substantial reservoir of microplastics (2004 items/kg). Additionally, there was a strong relationship between proximity to urban development and microplastics detected. Six pesticides were detected, most commonly the insecticide bifenthrin, found in most sediment samples (11.3 ng/g), all root samples (243.3 ng/g), and one propagule sample (8.60 ng/g). Other pesticides detected with appreciable concentrations include the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid and the legacy insecticide transformation product, p,p’-DDE. The other detections, all at concentrations < 1 ng/g, were p,p’-DDT, trifluralin, and permethrin. The high concentrations of bifenthrin in roots compared to lower concentrations detected in sediment suggest that mangrove roots strongly accumulate some pesticides, indicating mangrove roots as a sink for organic contaminants. Study methods could be applied to other Hawaiian Islands and other locations where mangroves have been introduced to further examine the observed trends. Additional information is needed to investigate the fate and cycling of pesticides and microplastics adhered to mangrove roots, to better inform non-native mangrove removal efforts on Moloka'i and elsewhere.


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Funding for this project was provided by the Society of Wetland Scientists, The Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology, Sigma Xi, and the Ed and Olive Bushby Scholarship.