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The effects of acid mine drainage at Britannia Beach, B.C., on fucus gardneri and associated intertidal algae Marsden, Allan Dale

Abstract

Copper ore was extracted from Britannia Mine, British Columbia, Canada, from 1902 until the mine ceased operations in 1974. Rain, snowmelt and groundwater now percolate through the mine tunnels, producing an acidic solution of dissolved metals known as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD). A portion of the AMD from the mine flows into Britannia Creek, which in turn flows into Howe Sound, 50 km north of Vancouver, B.C. This study examined the effects of this effluent on the distribution of intertidal macroalgae with a focus on Fucus gardneri Silva, a seaweed which thrives 2 km from the mouth of Britannia Creek but is absent from the shore near the Creek. F. gardneri provides habitat and food for benthic invertebrates, which are a major food source for chum salmon fry and chinook salmon fry and smolts. Algal communities were quantified at 7 intertidal stations to the north and south of the mouth of Britannia Creek and at 6 similar stations at nearby Furry Creek, a reference site. Algal cover was almost non-existent within 200 m of the mouth of Britannia Creek, and F. gardneri was completely absent on the 600 m of shoreline south of Britannia Creek and on 1000 m of shoreline north of the same Creek. There was, however, a heavy cover of filamentous green algae, mainly Enteromorpha compressa (L.) Link, at sites 300 m and 700 m south and north of Britannia Creek, respectively, suggesting that these algae can better tolerate AMD. Experimental work consisted of transplanting F. gardneri-covered cobbles from a control site to Britannia Beach and monitoring the plants' growth, survivorship and copper content. In five experiments conducted from June 1997 to November 1998, plants moved to within 100 m of Britannia Creek generally had lower survivorships and lower growth rates than plants at the control site, as well as higher tissue copper concentrations. Survivorship and growth rates of plants moved to areas farther from Britannia Creek (300-700 m) were not significantly different from control plants.

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