Mercury in turtles from the Asian food trade
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Mercury contamination threatens many ecosystems worldwide. Methyl mercury bioaccumulates at each trophic level, and biomagnifies within individuals over time. Long-lived turtles often occupy high trophic positions and are likely to accumulate mercury in contaminated habitats. Millions of turtles worldwide are sold in Asia for human consumption. Consumers may be at risk if turtles contain high levels of mercury. We dissected 71 turtles from 14 food trade species and analyzed their tissues (liver, kidneys, muscle, claws, and scutes) for total mercury content. Mercury was generally highest in carnivores, and lowest in herbivores. Liver and scutes had the highest concentrations. We compared mercury concentrations with consumption limits developed by the US EPA and FDA to evaluate mercury in fish tissue. Several samples exceeded the recommended 1900 ppb consumption threshold, indicating that consumers who eat certain turtle species frequently may be at risk for mercury-related health problems.