Battling pollution in coastal areas

Brazil’s coastal areas are threatened by organic and inorganic pollution stemming from population growth and industrialization. More specifically, pollution is suspected of jeopardizing the health of aquatic species in natural and commercial settings. When pollution affects the reproduction of species, the local economy is negatively impacted. The presence of pollutants in Brazil’s coastal ecosystems can affect food systems and cause harm to the health of local communities.

The competing demands of tourism, fisheries, industries, and communities on the coastal ecosystem, as well as the lack of effective environmental regulations are degrading estuaries. Restoring, preserving, and improving these ecosystems requires both a better understanding of how natural and human activities affect estuaries, as well as integrated coastal management strategies.

The research

The research team, in collaboration with government agencies in Brazil and Canada, is developing alternative management strategies to guide industrial regulation and coastal development. Research sites in the Patos Lagoon (Rio Grande, S. Brazil) and Amazon (Belém, N. Brazil) estuaries have been selected because of the human pressures on these water bodies. At the same time they represent subtropical and tropical climates and fresh and salt water conditions, respectively. These differences will allow the team to develop regionally sensitive management approaches which could potentially be applied to other areas in the Americas.

The project’s goal is to improve human health and well-being by better managing ecosystems, and protecting local biodiversity. The specific objectives are to:

  • model the effects of metals on aquatic species to inform regulatory processes;
  • monitor water quality regarding organic and inorganic contaminants using the biomarker approach;
  • undertake training of highly qualified personnel in ecotoxicology and pollution regulations; and
  • collaborate with governments, industrial research organizations, and community stakeholders to  restore, preserve, and improve coastal ecosystems.

Expected outcomes

The project aims to:

  • produce models that will be used to predict the presence and biological effects of metals in the study areas;
  • assess the Brazilian regulations for metal release in coastal areas and, if necessary, propose new limits to ensure the protection of biodiversity and water quality;
  • anticipate changes in populations and communities by analyzing  biomarkers in important species to inform preventative actions;
  • develop alternative management strategies to guide industrial regulation, human settlement, and urban policy in the study areas; and
  • train young researchers in the field of ecotoxicology and pollution regulations.

Lead Researchers 

Adalto Bianchini

IDRC Research Chair in Environmental Health and Management Federal University of Rio Grande, Brazil 

A Professor at the Institute of Biological Sciences at the Federal University of Rio Grande, Brazil, Adalto Bianchini is also a Senior Research Fellow with Brazil’s Ministry of Science and Technology’s National Research and Development Council. His expertise lies in environmental health and management, with an emphasis on aquatic toxicology. His research on the Biotic Ligand Model for regulating metals has helped its adoption by the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States. Environment Canada and regulatory agencies of the European Union are following suit.

Recognized as a Distinguished Researcher in Biological Sciences by Rio Grande do Sul’s Research Foundation, Bianchini is the recipient of many awards. A past president and member of the Brazilian Society of Ecotoxicology, he is a member of many scientific societies, including the Brazilian Society of Physiology and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. Author of more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, he also serves on the editorial boards of Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safetyand the Journal of the Brazilian Society of Ecotoxicology. Bianchini holds a BSc in Biological Oceanography from the Federal University of Rio Grande and a MSc in Biological Sciences (Physiology) from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. He obtained his PhD in Oceanography from Liege University in Belgium in 1990.

Christopher Wood

Canada Research Chair in Environment and Health McMaster University, Canada 

Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology, McMaster University, Christopher Wood is one of the world’s foremost experts in fish physiology. Over the past 25 years, he has conducted field studies from China to Brazil. His current research interests include comparative animal physiology, aquatic toxicology, and environmental regulations.

Wood has been Canada Research Chair in Environment and Health since 2001. His work has been recognized through lifetime achievement awards from the Canadian Society of Zoology (1999) and the American Fisheries Society (2002). He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2003 and made a lifetime Distinguished Professor at McMaster in 2005. Wood also received the Romanowski Medal in Environmental Science from the Royal Society of Canada in 2007.

A frequent contributor to international scientific journals, he is listed as a highly cited researcher by the Institute for Scientific Information. Wood holds a BSc and MSc from the University of British Columbia, and a PhD in fish cardiovascular pharmacology from the University of East Anglia.


Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Sunday, November 1, 2009

End Date

Saturday, November 1, 2014


60 months

IDRC Officer

David O'Brien

Total funding

CA$ 1,000,000


Brazil, China, Belgium, Canada, United States


International Research Chairs Initiative

Project Leader

Adalto Bianchini


Fundação de Apoio à Universidade do Rio Grande

Institution Country


Institution Website

Project Leader

Christopher Wood


McMaster University

Institution Country


Institution Website