Spatio-temporal changes of marine macrobenthic community in sub-tropical waters upon recovery from eutrophication. I. Sediment quality and community structure

P. K. S. SHIN, N. W. Y. LAM, Shiu Sun Rudolf WU, P. Y. QIAN, S. G. CHEUNG

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A two-year study was conducted in the vicinity of a harbour in sub-tropical Hong Kong, to examine the progress of improvement in sediment quality and recovery of macrobenthic community upon cessation of organic pollution caused by sewage discharge. Median sediment particle diameter (Mdφ) and levels of total organic carbon (TOC), total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), ammonia-nitrogen (NH₃-N) and total phosphorus (TP), as well as macrobenthic species composition and abundance were determined bi-monthly at three inside-harbour and two outside-harbour locations. At the two inside-harbour locations, significantly higher levels of TOC, TKN, NH₃-N and TP in sediments were observed than the outside-harbour locations. However, no significant temporal change of nutrient levels was detected at all sampling locations during the two-year study, except a significant decrease in TKN and NH₃-N levels at one outside-harbour location and a decline in NH₃-N content at another outside-harbour location. Spatially, the highest in mean total species number, individual number, species diversity H′ and lowest evenness J was found at one outside-harbour location, whereas the other four locations had relatively similar values. H′ was negatively correlated with TOC, TKN, NH₃-N and TP content in sediments while J was positively correlated with MDφ. Across the study period, the patterns of macrobenthic community were significantly different among all samplings and that the spatial difference of benthic community was best correlated with MDφ, TOC, TKN and water depth. A weak sign of recovery in macrobenthic community structure was detected at inside-harbour locations, with replacement of opportunistic by ubiquitous species over the two-year study. The slow recovery of macrobenthic community was related to sediment characteristics. Results of a larval settlement bioassay using the polychaete Capitella sp. I also demonstrated that the inside-harbour sediments were still unfavourable for colonization and larval settlement of species sensitive to pollution. The slow biodegradation of the organic pollutants and continuous presence of heavy metals in the sediment may hinder settlement and colonization of benthic animals. However, increases of H′ and J were observed in a longer time scale when comparing the present data with those obtained four years ago. This suggested that a detectable recovery of benthic community in the harbour may take at least three years and a complete recovery may even take longer duration. Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)282-296
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008



Shin, P. K. S., Lam, N. W. Y., Wu, R. S. S., Qian, P. Y., & Cheung, S. G. (2008). Spatio-temporal changes of marine macrobenthic community in sub-tropical waters upon recovery from eutrophication. I. Sediment quality and community structure. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 56(2), 282-296. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2007.10.023


  • Macrobenthos
  • Sediment quality
  • Community structure
  • Recovery
  • Eutrophication