Sea sore: Coasts, estuaries degraded by humans

Jun 23, 2006

Severe resource depletion and ecosystem destruction of coasts and estuaries began during Roman and Medieval times but have rapidly accelerated over the last 150-300 years, according to a new study in Science.

Dr Roger Bradbury, Adjunct Professor in the Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program at ANU (Australian National University), was part of a research team that measured the changes in 12 temperate estuarine and coastal ecosystems since human settlement in Europe, North America and Australia.

The four-year study found exploitation and habitat destruction caused by human activities had depleted 91 per cent of marine species, of which 31 per cent were rare and seven per cent were extinct. Human activity was also responsible for degrading 65 per cent of seagrass and wetland habitat, significantly degrading water quality, and accelerating species invasion.

The researchers say that the decline had been fastest during the market-colonial development period and continued into the “global” periods, between the years 1900-1950 and 1950-2000.

They say the continued degradation of coastal areas and estuaries “poses potential for disaster, as demonstrated by numerous fisheries collapses and the recent impacts of the 2004 Asian tsunami and 2005 Hurricane Katrina that were exacerbated by historical losses of mangroves and wetlands”.

More positively, the study found that conservation efforts in the 20th Century had “led to a partial recovery of 12 per cent and substantial recovery of two per cent of the species”.

The authors also noted that conservation efforts in developed countries had slowed or in some instances reversed degradation trends in the late 20th Century, but warned that expected population growth associated with growing coastal pressures may increase degradation in developing countries.

A reduction of exploitation and habitat destruction should be the focus of environmental management efforts, the research team recommends. They say species invasions and climate change may have a stronger impact on coasts and estuaries in future.

The research was led by Heike Lotze from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and included researchers from the University of California, Bates College, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the University of Chicago, the University of Florida and the University of North Carolina.

Source: Australian National University

Explore further: Coastal defences could contribute to flooding with sea-level rise

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New research to support the huge potential of tidal power

Jan 17, 2013

(Phys.org)—New research from a global group of scientists and engineers, including from the University of Southampton, has been published in a special issue journal of the Royal Society. The work is in support of tidal ...

Harnessing tidal energy

Oct 26, 2010

A new company, Kepler Energy Limited, has been formed to develop a tidal turbine which has the potential to harness tidal energy more efficiently and cheaply, using a device which is simpler, more robust and ...

Recommended for you

Tracking giant kelp from space

9 hours ago

Citizen scientists worldwide are invited to take part in marine ecology research, and they won't have to get their feet wet to do it. The Floating Forests project, an initiative spearheaded by scientists ...

Heavy metals and hydroelectricity

11 hours ago

Hydraulic engineering is increasingly relied on for hydroelectricity generation. However, redirecting stream flow can yield unintended consequences. In the August 2014 issue of GSA Today, Donald Rodbell of ...

What's wiping out the Caribbean corals?

11 hours ago

Here's what we know about white-band disease: It has already killed up to 95 percent of the Caribbean's reef-building elkhorn and staghorn corals, and it's caused by an infectious bacteria that seems to be ...

User comments : 0