International Council for the Exploration of the Sea
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ICES VIEWPOINT: Assessment of the biological effects of chemical pollution for better management of the marine environment

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posted on 2023-08-28, 07:54 authored by ICESICES

Chemical pollution is the introduction, through human activities, of chemical substances that have potential toxicity to marine organisms into the marine environment. Over the past several decades, the chemical environment of the seas has evolved as a result of these activities. There has been a continuous introduction of new substances and a general shift from high concentrations of a few chemicals to low concentrations of many. This situation is likely to persist in the future. The main groups of chemical pollutants that are of concern–trace metals and organic contaminants–have at least one of the following characteristics: they are persistent, bioaccumulative, and/or toxic to marine organisms.

There are several well documented examples of the impact of chemical pollutants on marine populations, at different trophic levels from invertebrates to marine mammals, via multiple mechanisms of toxicity. In addition, there is evidence of the sub lethal effects of chemical pollution at the organismal level on biological functions, strongly linking to pathology and disease. The biological effects of chemical pollution need to be assessed directly, supporting the need for field-based assessments.

ICES advises to adopt the approach of biological effects methods for monitoring within the integrated chemical-biological monitoring and assessment framework as an absolute prerequisite for the provision of a holistic assessment of the impacts of pollution on marine ecosystems. ICES also recommends several measures for the effective implementation of field-based biological effects methods. The new knowledge should be effectively brought into regulatory frameworks.


Published under the auspices of the following ICES Steering Group or Committee

  • ACOM


ICES Advice: ICES Viewpoints

Recommended citation

ICES. 2021. ICES VIEWPOINT: Assessment of the biological effects of chemical pollution for better management of the marine environment. In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2021. ICES Advice 2021, vp.2021.01.