Coal mining represents an important industry in many countries, but concerns exist about the possible adverse effects of minewater releases on aquatic animals and ecosystems. Coal mining generates large volumes of complex wastewater, which often contains high concentrations of dissolved solids, suspended solids, metals, hydrocarbons, salts and other compounds. Traditional toxicological testing has generally involved the assessment of acute toxicity or chronic toxicity with longer-term tests, and while such tests provide useful information, they are poorly suited to ongoing monitoring or rapid assessment following accidental discharge events. As such, there is considerable interest in developing rapid and sensitive approaches to environmental monitoring, and particularly involving the assessment of sub-lethal behavioural responses in locally relevant aquatic species. We therefore investigated behavioural responses of a native Australian fish to coal mine wastewater, to evaluate its potential use for evaluating sub-lethal effects associated with wastewater releases on freshwater ecosystems. Empire gudgeons (Hypseleotris compressa) were exposed to wastewater from two dams located at an open cut coal mine in Central Queensland, Australia and activity levels were monitored using the Multispecies Freshwater Biomonitor® (LimCo International GmbH). A general decrease in locomotor activity (i.e., low frequency movement) and increase in non-locomotor activity (i.e., high frequency movement including ventilation and small fin movement) was observed in exposed fish compared to those in control water. Altered activity levels were observable within the first hour of exposure and persisted throughout the 15-d experiment. Results demonstrate the potential for using behavioural endpoints as tools for monitoring wastewater discharges using native fish species, but more research is necessary to identify responsible compounds and response thresholds, and to understand the relevance of the observed effects for populations in natural receiving environments.
- Coal mine wastewater
- Locomotor activity
- Multispecies Freshwater Biomonitor®