Project Details Management of maritime pollutants in shipping and commercial European ports based on relevant physical and biogeochemical environmental parameter

Project No.: 
Start Date: 
01 September 2011
End Date: 
31 December 2015


Increasingly, both shipping and port managers address environmental risk in their operations. The aim is to provide relevant indicators of performance and quality based on physical and biogeochemical environmental parameters required to monitor and audit the effectiveness of the management systems and environmental policies put in place in European ports.


Ports are marine basins which through physical topography, bathymetry and/or the various technical constructions are characterized as closed or semi-closed coastal systems with limited water circulation. This can lead to pollution hotspots (Smith et al., 2006), or areas of stagnation due to poor flushing and tidal exchange (Espino et al., 2010). Therefore, pollution within port basins is often poorly dispersed and tend to have long residence times leading to high pollution concentrations. A wide range of pollutants can be found in the air, the water column and the sediments of ports being more or less related to the maritime industry, the ubiquitous problem of TBT and its log-term legacy is a notable example (Macguire, 2000; Bray and Langston, 2006). During the last decade, ports around the world have grown at an extremely high rate due to keeping abreast of drives for international trade and the need to create hub-port distribution centres (e.g. Southampton, UK) (Lee and Ducruet, 2006).

Commercial ports suffer from a wide range of maritime pollutants resulting to their characterization as hot spots for the coastal area. Ports are polluted through discharges from maritime traffic (cargo spills, oily bilge discharges, ballast water (often containing exotic species), antifouling paints and sewage), port activities (sewage, cooling waters, spills), solid waste (dumping), construction and maintenance, dredging (releasing contaminants) (DelValls et al, 2004), shipyards and repair zones (e.g. see He and Morrison, 2001).

Nowadays, both shipping and port managers aim to address environmental risk (Jones, A-M, et al, 2005) Therefore in line with other major industries, they strive to achieve suitable Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and environmental policies. Accordingly, successful port environmental management (Wooldridge, W et al., 1999) should address operations with an emphasis on those with the potential to significantly impact the surrounding environment, and to identify actions to prevent or minimize these aspects. An environmental policy should correspond to any deliberately taken action to manage human activities aiming at prevention, reduction and mitigation of harmful effects, incorporating issues such as air and water pollution, waste and ecosystem management, biodiversity and natural resources protection.

The effectiveness of environmental management actions put in place requires monitoring and assessment and for this purpose physical, biogeochemical and ecological environmental parameters may be utilised as performance indicators. Also, the physicochemical characteristics of the receiving waters into which chemical contaminants will be deposited require consideration as they have potential to influence chemical speciation, mobility, bioavailability, and pollutant toxicity and bioavailability. For example it has long been known that fine sediment, often associated with sluggish port waters, can bind strongly to chemical species leading to a “reservoir” (Macguire, 2000) of slowly released pollutants giving long term effects which may “cascade” upwards to the human food chain (Antizar-Ladislao, 2008).

Physical and biogeochemical environmental parameters should incorporate water and sediment quality as well as species and community characteristics (Ford, et al, 2005; Zonta, et al, 1995). Port managers and environmental regulators should aim at: rational planning of pollution control activities; identification of hot spots and their prioritization; assessment of trends, and evaluation of pollution control effectiveness. This would enable recommendation of remedial measures to improve environmental quality and the continual improvement of environmental performance. Thus these indicators would provide valuable information concerning environmental by acting as performance indicators of the quality of the respective environmental actions. Consequently, they should support sound decisions when developing, shaping and evaluating national and local (EMS) policy.

The current project focuses specifically on the European ports, however results and conclusions could be considered for a more general application, however in a following step.


Antizar-Ladislao, B. (2008) Environmental levels, toxicity and human exposure to tributyltin (TBT)-contaminated marine environment. A review. Environment International. 34, 292-308.

Bray, S. and Langston, W.J. (2006) Tributyltin pollution on a global scale. An overview of relevant and recent research: impacts and issues. Report submitted to Marine Environment protection committee, 55th session. MEPC 55/INF.4-7 July 2006.

DelValls, T.A. et al, 2004, “Chemical and ecotoxicological guidelines for managing disposal of dredged material”, Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 23(10-11): 819-828.

Ford, T. et al, 2005, “Use of Ecotoxicological Tools to Evaluate the Health of New Bedford Harbor Sediments: A Microbial Biomarker Approach”, Environ, Health Perspect, 113(2):186-191.

Guadalupe de la Lanza Espino, G. d.l., Rodriguez, I.P. and Czitrom, S.P.R. (2010) Water quality of a port in NW Mexico and its rehabilitation with swell energy. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 60, No. 1, 123-130.

He, Z. and Morrison, R.J. (2001) Changes in the Marine Environment of Port Kembla Harbour, NSW, Australia, 1975-1995: A Review. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 42, No. 3, 193-201.

Jones, A-M, et al, 2005, “A risk assessment approach to contaminants in Port Curtis, Queensland, Australia”, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 51(1-4): 448-458.

Lee, S.W. and Ducruet, C. (2006) Waterfront redevelopment and territorial integration in Le Havre (France) and Southampton (UK): Implications for Busan, Korea. Ocean Policy Research. 21, 2 127-156.

Maguire, R.J. (2000) Review of the persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity of tributyltin in aquatic environments in relation to Canada’s toxic substances management policy. W ater Quality Research Journal of Canada 35 No. 4, 633-679.

Smith, A.J., Thain, J.E. and Barry, J. (2006) Exploring the use of caged Nucella lapillus to monitor changes to TBT hotspot areas: A trial in the River Tyne estuary (UK). Marine Environmental Research. 62, No. 2, 149-163.

Wooldridge, W et al., 1999, “Environmental management of ports and Harbours – implementation of policy through scientific monitoring”, Marine Policy, 23(4-5): 413-425.

Zonta, R. et al, 1995, “Useful tracer parameters to investigate the environmental conditions in areas of the Venice Lagoon”, Wetlands Ecology and Management, 3(3): 139-147.


Jan 2012 – project announcement published in Chem. Int. Jan-Feb 2012, p. 23

March 2014 – project update published in Chem. Int. Mar-Apr 2014, p. 20.

December 2015project completed – A Technical report entitled ‘Maritime pollutants in shipping and commercial European ports based on relevant physical and biogeochemical environmental parameters’ is published in Pure and Applied Chemistry, Volume 87, Issue 11-12, Pages 1151-1166, DOI: 10.1515/pac-2014-0804

Page last updated 8 Jan 2016