A new approach for detecting and mapping sewage impacts

Mar Pollut Bull. 2001 Feb;42(2):149-56. doi: 10.1016/s0025-326x(00)00125-9.


Increased nitrogen loading has been implicated in eutrophication occurrences worldwide. Much of this loading is attributable to the growing human population along the world's coastlines. A significant component of this nitrogen input is from sewage effluent, and delineation of the distribution and biological impact of sewage-derived nitrogen is becoming increasingly important. Here, we show a technique that identifies the source, extent and fate of biologically available sewage nitrogen in coastal marine ecosystems. This method is based on the uptake of sewage nitrogen by marine plants and subsequent analysis of the sewage signature (elevated delta 15N) in plant tissues. Spatial analysis is used to create maps of delta 15N and establish coefficient of variation estimates of the mapped values. We show elevated delta 15N levels in marine plants near sewage outfalls in Moreton Bay, Australia, a semi-enclosed bay receiving multiple sewage inputs. These maps of sewage nitrogen distribution are being used to direct nutrient reduction strategies in the region and will assist in monitoring the effectiveness of environmental protection measures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • Maps as Topic
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis*
  • Plants*
  • Queensland
  • Seawater*
  • Sewage*


  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Sewage