The presence of persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals in sediment samples from rivers in the Kruger National Park
Van Gessellen, Annemarie
MetadataShow full item record
Since 2008, large numbers of Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) carcasses were found in the Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa. Most of the crocodile carcasses were found in the Olifants Gorge, which is situated below the Letaba and Olifants river confluence, before the Mozambique border and Massingir Dam. The Massingir Dam is an important resource and it plays a significant role in the welfare of the local Mozambican population. Autopsies performed on the crocodiles indicated that the adipose tissue colour changed from normal white to yellow and this is usually a sign of pansteatitis. Pansteatitis is caused by lipid peroxidation in an organism and it is characterised by the lack of vitamin E. This disease is recognisable by the hardening of the fatty tissue and yellow discolouration, and is mostly associated with aquatic organisms from polluted ecosystems. There are speculations that the crocodile fatalities may be associated with the Massingir Dam that backed up into the Olifants Gorge after flooding. After the dam was reconstructed, it flooded the Olifants Gorge, causing it to act like a localised sediment trap as the water flow slowed down and as a result, caused pollutants to build-up. Sediment samples were collected from selected rivers and ponds within the KNP. These samples were analysed for selected elements, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The sediment samples were analysed in Norway for POPs and PAHs with the use of a high-resolution gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and the heavy metals were analysed in South Africa with the use of inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP/MS). In order to identify which elements may have affected the health of the crocodiles, a series of sediment quality indices were used. These indices made it possible to determine which elements may have been involved. The order of probability of heavy metals causing harm was Se>As>Ni>Cr>Cu>I>V>Mn>Co>Fe>Cd>Hg>Zn>Pb>Ba>U. The data was compared to selected international guidelines. All the information was used to determine which of the sampled sites had the highest contamination. The sites sampled with the highest concentrations were in the Crocodile, Nkomati, Olifants, and Letaba Rivers. Concentrations of the elements, POPs, and PAHs were also quantifiable in the Olifants Gorge. The following elements (Fe, Co, Cu, Cr, Pb, V, As, and Ni) were quantified at elevated levels and may therefore have caused negative effects on the crocodiles in the Olifants Gorge. These elevated concentrations, in combination with the dramatic change in the physical environment due to the dam, could have added additional stress that may have contributed to the observed crocodile mortalities in the Olifants Gorge.