Urban and agricultural influences on the coastal dissolved organic matter pool in the Algoa Bay estuaries

Jarmo Charles J. Kalinski, Xavier Siwe Noundou, Daniel Petras, Gwynneth F. Matcher, Alexandros Polyzois, Allegra T. Aron, Emily C. Gentry, Thomas G. Bornman, Janine B. Adams, Rosemary A. Dorrington*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While anthropogenic pollution is a major threat to aquatic ecosystem health, our knowledge of the presence of xenobiotics in coastal Dissolved Organic Matter (DOM) is still relatively poor. This is especially true for water bodies in the Global South with limited information gained mostly from targeted studies that rely on comparison with authentic standards. In recent years, non-targeted tandem mass spectrometry has emerged as a powerful tool to collectively detect and identify pollutants and biogenic DOM components in the environment, but this approach has yet to be widely utilized for monitoring ecologically important aquatic systems. In this study we compared the DOM composition of Algoa Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa, and its two estuaries. The Swartkops Estuary is highly urbanized and severely impacted by anthropogenic pollution, while the Sundays Estuary is impacted by commercial agriculture in its catchment. We employed solid-phase extraction followed by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry to annotate more than 200 pharmaceuticals, pesticides, urban xenobiotics, and natural products based on spectral matching. The identification with authentic standards confirmed the presence of methamphetamine, carbamazepine, sulfamethoxazole, N-acetylsulfamethoxazole, imazapyr, caffeine and hexa(methoxymethyl)melamine, and allowed semi-quantitative estimations for annotated xenobiotics. The Swartkops Estuary DOM composition was strongly impacted by features annotated as urban pollutants including pharmaceuticals such as melamines and antiretrovirals. By contrast, the Sundays Estuary exhibited significant enrichment of molecules annotated as agrochemicals widely used in the citrus farming industry, with predicted concentrations for some of them exceeding predicted no-effect concentrations. This study provides new insight into anthropogenic impact on the Algoa Bay system and demonstrates the utility of non-targeted tandem mass spectrometry as a sensitive tool for assessing the health of ecologically important coastal ecosystems and will serve as a valuable foundation for strategizing long-term monitoring efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141782
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • Anthropogenic impact
  • Aquatic metabolomics
  • Molecular networking
  • Spectral matching
  • Tandem mass spectrometry
  • Xenobiotics


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