Minimal ecosystem uptake of selenium from Westland petrels, a forest-breeding seabird.
Pit lakes are a common reclamation strategy for open pit mines; however, there is a concern about their water quality and suitability as fish habitat because they are often contaminated by metals or metalloids. This study assessed the exposure of fish and invertebrates to selenium (Se) and other metals and metalloids in pit lakes formed by open pit coal mining in Tertiary (thermal coal) and in Cretaceous (metallurgical coal) bedrock. Juvenile hatchery rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, and brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, were stocked into two thermal coal pit lakes (water Se < 2 μg/L, low water Se) and two metallurgical coal pit lakes (water Se > 15 μg/L, high water Se). Se accumulation in stocked fish and concentrations in invertebrates were characterized over a period of 2 years. In the metallurgical pits, invertebrates had higher Se concentrations and fish accumulated Se to higher levels (exceeding USEPA tissue Se guidelines) than biota in the thermal pits. Rainbow and brook trout accumulated similar concentrations of Se in their muscle and exhibited a similar relationship between whole-body and muscle Se concentrations. These results may be used by resource managers to assess compliance with whole-body tissue Se guidelines and to determine if pit lakes in coal mining areas pose a significant Se risk to wildlife or human health. The high Se exposure in metallurgical coal pits indicates that under the current mining and reclamation strategy, these lakes are not suitable for management as recreational "put and take" fisheries.