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Within the tropical marine study site of Guánica Bay, Puerto Rico, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are subjected to coastal and oceanic currents coupled with marine microbial and geochemical processes. To evaluate these processes a hydrodynamic model was developed to simulate the transport of PCBs within nearshore and offshore marine areas of Guánica Bay. Material transport and circulation information from the model were matched with measurements from samples collected from within the bay. These samples, consisting of both intertidal and submerged sediments, were analyzed for physical characteristics (organic carbon, grain size, and mineralogy), microbial characteristics (target bacteria levels and microbial community analyses), presence of PCBs, and PCB-degrading enzymes. Results show that the bay geometry and bathymetry limit the mixing of the extremely high levels of PCBs observed in the eastern portion of the bay. Bay bottom sediments showed the highest levels of PCBs and these sediments were characterized by high organic carbon content and finer grain size. Detectable levels of PCBs were also observed within sediments found along the shore. Microbes from the bay bottom sediments showed a greater relative abundance of microbes from the Chloroflexi, phylum with close phylogenetic associations with known anaerobic PCB-degrading organisms. Based on quantitative PCR measurement of the biphenyl dioxygenase gene, the intertidal sediments showed the greatest potential for aerobic PCB degradation. These results elucidate particular mechanisms of PCB’s fate and transport in coastal, tropical marine environments.


Originally published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering.

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