Key facts on the interlinkages between biodiversity and mercury pollution

Mercury is a highly hazardous chemical that, once released into the environment through anthropogenic sources, puts further pressure on biodiversity and ecosystems. It poses a global threat to human health and biodiversity, as it persists in the environment, and bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in the food chain.

  • Mercury is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the food chain and can be particularly harmful to species at the top of the food web, such as fish-eating birds and large predators, including humans.
  • Mercury pollution can have a negative impact on biodiversity. It can interfere with the normal behavior of organisms and their ability to reproduce, causing populations to decline and putting further pressure on species that are already under threat by other drivers of biodiversity loss.
  • Mercury contamination of aquatic habitats can lead to the bioaccumulation of mercury in fish, resulting in the contamination of humans and other species that consume fish. Mercury in soils and water can also reduce the diversity of microorganisms and plants.
  • When mercury circulates between air, water, sediments, soil and biota in various forms, may not be removed from this cycle for a century or more.
  • Over 2000 tonnes of mercury are emitted into the air annually from human activities, with almost 40% coming from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM ), and this, along with emissions from stationary combustion of coal (e.g., coal-fired power plants), contributes to 60% of all emissions. 
  • ASGM activities are the single biggest source of mercury releases to soil and often take place in biodiverse and sensitive ecosystems around the world, impacting on approximately 100 million people in ASGM communities worldwide.
  • Indigenous Peoples and local communities, especially women and children among them, are disproportionately affected by mercury pollution due to their direct reliance on natural resources. Indigenous Peoples, local communities, women and youth are also key actors towards achieving the objective of the Minamata Convention on Mercury and national pollution targets.
  • Mercury pollution can be prevented through the implementation of regulations and best management practices, such as the use of pollution control technologies, waste management systems, and proper management of wastewater.
  • The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a legally binding agreement with provisions regulating anthropogenic activities throughout the entire life cycle of mercury, from its primary mining through its various uses to the management of mercury as waste and management of sites contaminated with mercury.

BioPubPublication: Mercury and Biodiversity

January 2024
This publication explores opportunities for generating co-benefits through coherent implementation of the Minamata Convention and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

Available in English, French and Spanish.

Bio infographicInfographic: Mercury and Biodiversity

Check out this infographic to learn more about how toxic mercury impacts biodiversity and human health all around the world. From human-made sources, this highly hazardous chemical accumulates in many ecosystems, such as tropical forests, mangroves, oceans and the Arctic, leading to detrimental impacts on biodiversity.

Available in Chinese, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Joint statement

Pollution from chemicals and wastes a key driver of biodiversity loss, says a new report

Geneva, 21 May 2021

Joint statement by the Secretariats of the Basel, Minamata, Rotterdam, & Stockholm conventions in launching Key Insights from a Study on the Interlinkages between Chemicals and Waste and Biodiversity.

"This study sheds a light of hope on what the chemicals and waste conventions can do – by working in close collaboration – to better protect biological diversity, ecosystem services and human health. If we want to effectively address the critical role of pollution in biodiversity loss, we must understand that such a worldwide, complex problem needs solutions that are interconnected, smart-targeted and shared".

Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of the Minamata Convention

Minamata Convention COP-5 decision on Biodiversity

The fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-5) in November 2023 acknowledged mercury pollution as a direct driver of global biodiversity loss and recognized the opportunities for the implementation of both the Minamata Convention and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework in a mutually supportive way. Parties also highlighted the value of working across sectors and scales to generate co-benefits and of initiatives like the "Bern meetings" to support synergies.

Considering that Convention Parties can contribute significantly to biodiversity conservation, COP-5 urged the integration of mercury action into biodiversity projects, the promotion of research on mercury's impact, and the alignment of mercury reduction in national strategies with the Kunming-Montreal Framework. It also noted the absence of indicators for highly hazardous chemicals in the Kunming-Montreal's monitoring framework, and encouraged information dissemination and improved coherence among environmental agreements.

Minamata Convention COP-4 decision on International Cooperation and Coordination

In March, the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP-4) adopted a decision on international cooperation and coordination, recognizing the Convention's contribution to achieving SDGs and addressing the triple planetary crises of pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change. The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity has been informed of that decision along with the exploratory study.

The secretariat was requested to continue gathering knowledge, raising awareness, and demonstrating the contribution of the Minamata Convention to other international regulations and policies related to pollution, biodiversity, and climate change.

The secretariat was also invited to prepare a report, including possible recommendations, on how the Convention could contribute to the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework for consideration by the Conference of the Parties at its fifth meeting.