Little is known about the impacts of mine waste disposal, including deep-sea tailings, on tropical marine environments and this study presents the first account of this impact on deepwater fish communities. The Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea has deposited both excavated overburden and processed tailings slurry into the coastal environment since 1997. The abundances of fish species and trace metal concentrations in their tissues were compared between sites adjacent to and away from the mine. In this study (1999-2002), 975 fish of 98 species were caught. Significantly fewer fish were caught close to the mine than in neighbouring regions; the highest numbers were in regions distant from the mine. The catch rates of nine of the 17 most abundant species were lowest, and in three species were highest, close to the mine. There appears to be limited contamination in fish tissues caused by trace metals disposed as mine waste. Although arsenic (several species) and mercury (one species) were found in concentrations above Australian food standards. However, as in the baseline (pre-mine) sampling, it appears they are accumulating these metals mostly from naturally-occurring sources rather than the mine waste. Crown Copyright © 2006.
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