Publications: Peer-reviewed journal articles (by staff)

Multiple indicators reveal river plume influence on sediments and benthos in a New Zealand coastal embayment

1 January, 2007

Forrest BM, Gillespie PA, Cornelisen CD and Rodgers KM 2007. Multiple indicators reveal river plume influence on sediments and benthos in a New Zealand coastal embayment. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 41(1): 13-24.


Multiple physico-chemical and biological indicators were used to delineate the spatial influence of the Motueka River plume on coastal surface sediments and associated biota in Tasman Bay, New Zealand. Sediments were primarily muds at nearshore sites on all transects and comprised coarser sediments at the most seaward sites in Tasman Bay. Organic carbon/nitrogen ratios, stable carbon and nitrogen isotope signatures, and certain lipid biomarkers and trace metals provided Suitable indicators of terrestrial and riverine influence on subtidal sediments. Analysis of these parameters revealed a discernible catchment influence extending at least 6 km offshore in the river outwelling plume, with a pronounced signature evident at two sampling stations within approximately 2 km of the Motueka River mouth. At these two nearshore sites, nickel and chromium from natural upper-catchment sources were present at concentrations greatly exceeding sediment quality thresholds for probable ecological effects. The infaunal assemblage at these sites comprised low densities of a few opportunistic taxa, with the spatial distribution of organisms strongly correlated with trace metal concentrations. Although a causal relationship with trace metals is possible, other unmeasured influences such as gradients of salinity, depth and physical disturbance could conceivably be the primary drivers of the biological pattern. By contrast with the effects on infauna, analyses of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and trace metals in epibenthic shellfish did not reveal any evidence of a direct terrestrial or riverine influence. Overall, the results from this work indicate a relatively localised river plume effect on subtidal sediments and the associated infaunal assemblage. However, because previous work has shown that the river plume can extend tens of kilometres offshore during flood flows, further investigation is required to understand changes in seabed parameters within the context of spatio-temporal variation in catchment inputs and river plume discharge.