Quantifying Pre-Industrial to Mid-Late 20th Century Anthropogenic Lead, Mercury and Cadmium Pollution in Caribbean Marine Environments Using Skeletonized Sea Turtle Remains
Pena, Felicia L.
AdvisorZuckerman, Molly K.
CommitteeHerrmann, Nicholas P.
Various lines of evidence indicate that levels of anthropogenic pollutants, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, have increased in terrestrial and atmospheric environments since the early 19th century and the advent of industrialization. While the exposure to these three trace elements is a global concern, this study focused primarily on marine environments located throughout the Caribbean. Using ICP-MS, this study aimed to detect and quantify anthropogenic pollutants, specifically lead (Pb), mercury (Hg) and cadmium (Cd), using skeletonized remains of sea turtles as biological proxies for environmental quality. Archaeologically derived (n=5) and mid-late 20th century (n=6) Hawksbill and Green turtles were used to create a chronology of pollution exposure in Caribbean marine environments and establish a pre-industrial baseline for pollution exposure, useful for precisely gauging how human activities in the Caribbean, namely industrialization and tourism, have changed the concentration of these elements over time. Results from this study revealed that the industrial, modern sea turtle sample and the archaeological sample exhibit similar distributions of lead and cadmium ppm levels. Whereas, the mercury datasets revealed that the two samples share differing distributions of ppm levels, but that the archaeological sample yielded the higher mercury concentrations. Based on these results, this study was unable to verify whether skeletal sea turtle remains, specifically humeri, can be used as a biological proxy to reconstruct anthropogenic pollution in marine environments. Furthermore, it failed to quantify pre-industrial to mid-late 20th century anthropogenic lead, mercury, and cadmium pollution in Caribbean Marine Environments.