Coral reefs are periodically impacted by disturbance events that reduce live coral cover and habitat complexity, with concomitant effects on fish assemblage structure. While the density of some fish species may increase following coral loss, most species decline. Determining which species are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ following disturbances is fundamental to inform projections of future reef community structure, biodiversity, and productivity. Here, we analyse a long-term (2006–2018), spatially extensive (≈ 700 km) ‘natural experiment’ in which the responses of 11 wrasse taxa to acute disturbance events and no-take marine reserve (NTMR) protection were quantified on fringing coral reefs in the Palm (18°34′ S, 146°29′ E), Whitsunday (20°08′ S, 148°56′ E), and Keppel Island (23°10′ S, 150°57′ E) groups, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The responses of wrasse densities to benthic habitat change were taxa specific and temporally consistent. Disturbance-mediated reductions in live hard coral cover and/or habitat complexity resulted in density declines for Hemigymnus melapterus, Hemigymnus fasciatus, Cheilinus fasciatus, Labroides spp., Oxycheilinus digramma, and Thalassoma spp. Conversely, Halichoeres spp. densities correlated positively with increased relative cover of sand and rubble, while Stethojulis spp., Anampses spp., Epibulus insidiator, and Bodianus spp. displayed variable responses to habitat changes. No wrasses exhibited an NTMR effect and predator density, irrespective of NTMR status, only influenced five taxa across all island groups. The lack of NTMR effects and variable top-down predator effects suggest that taxa-specific benthic habitat associations were the predominant drivers of wrasse densities on inshore GBR reefs.
Human Impacts on the Environment
There are several environmental and ecological effects of shipping. However, these are rarely assessed in total in the scientific literature. Thus, the aim of this study was to summarize the different impacts of water-based transport on aquatic and nearshore ecosystems and to identify knowledge gaps and areas for future research. The review identified several environmental and ecological consequences within the main impact categories of water discharges, physical impacts, and air emissions. However, although quantitative data on these consequences are generally scarce the shipping contribution to acidification by SOx- and NOx-emissions has been quantified to some extent. There are several knowledge gaps regarding the ecological consequences of, for example, the increasing amount of chemicals transported on water, the spread of non-indigenous species coupled with climate change, and physical impacts such as shipping noise and artificial light. The whole plethora of environmental consequences, as well as potential synergistic effects, should be seriously considered in transport planning.
Effects of combined rising sea temperature and increasing sea level on coral reefs, both factors associated with global warming, have rarely been addressed. In this ~40 y study of shallow reefs in the eastern Indian Ocean, we show that a rising relative sea level, currently estimated at ~11 mm y−1, has not only promoted coral cover but also has potential to limit damaging effects of thermally-induced bleaching. In 2010 the region experienced the most severe bleaching on record with corals subject to sea temperatures of >31 °C for 7 weeks. While the reef flats studied have a common aspect and are dominated by a similar suite of coral species, there was considerable spatial variation in their bleaching response which corresponded with reef-flat depth. Greatest loss of coral cover and community structure disruption occurred on the shallowest reef flats. Damage was less severe on the deepest reef flat where corals were subject to less aerial exposure, rapid flushing and longer submergence in turbid waters. Recovery of the most damaged sites took only ~8 y. While future trajectories of these resilient reefs will depend on sea-level anomalies, and frequency of extreme bleaching the positive role of rising sea level should not be under-estimated.
On March 1, 1954, the United States conducted its largest thermonuclear weapon test in Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands; the detonation was code-named “Castle Bravo.” Radioactive deposits in the ocean sediment at the bomb crater are widespread and high levels of contamination remain today. One hundred thirty cores were collected from the top 25 cm of surface sediment at ocean depths approaching 60 m over a ∼2-km2 area, allowing for a presentation of radiation maps of the Bravo crater site. Radiochemical analyses were performed on the following radionuclides: plutonium-(239,240), plutonium-238, americium-241, bismuth-207, and cesium-137. Large values of plutonium-(239,240), americium-241, and bismuth-207 are found. Comparisons are made to core sample results from other areas in the northern Marshall Islands.
Artificial light at night (ALAN) is a recently acknowledged form of anthropogenic pollution of growing concern to the biology and ecology of exposed organisms. Though ALAN can have detrimental effects on physiology and behaviour, we have little understanding of how marine organisms in coastal areas may be impacted. Here, we investigated the effects of ALAN exposure on coral reef fish larvae during the critical recruitment stage, encompassing settlement, metamorphosis, and post-settlement survival. We found that larvae avoided illuminated settlement habitats, however those living under ALAN conditions for 10 days post-settlement experienced changes in swimming behaviour and higher susceptibility to nocturnal predation. Although ALAN-exposed fish grew faster and heavier than control fish, they also experienced significantly higher mortality rates by the end of the experimental period. This is the first study on the ecological impacts of ALAN during the early life history of marine fish.
Sustainable management of coastal and inland water areas requires knowledge of how tourism and recreation affects the ecosystems. Here, we present the first systematic review and meta-analysis to quantify to what extent recreational boat traffic and infrastructure for mooring affect the abundance of submerged vegetation on soft bottoms. Our systematic search yielded 25 studies containing data on effects of boat traffic, docks and mooring buoys on vegetation abundance. The abundance below docks was on average 18% of that in controls, and areas with boat traffic had on average 42% of the abundance in control areas. Mooring buoys often created scour areas without vegetation. However, the effects were variable and there were too few studies to test the reasons for this variability. We conclude that boating can cause significant declines in submerged vegetation but that informed management of boat traffic and improved design of docks and buoys can reduce negative impacts.
The marine environment faces an increasing number of threats, mainly driven by anthropogenic activities, that are causing growing impacts on marine species and processes. In Europe, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) aims to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) of the European waters by 2020. The Directive specifically refers to biodiversity with the first of the eleven qualitative descriptors (proposed to help describe what GES should look like) being Biodiversity is maintained. For this descriptor, the status of several functional groups, including marine megafauna species, need to be assessed using criteria such as population size and condition and mortality due to bycatch in fishing gear that compare current values against agreed thresholds. To contribute to this process, we performed an assessment of the threats affecting the marine megafauna community (i.e. seabirds and marine mammals) in the Bay of Biscay synthesizing the available evidences and identifying the main threats affecting the marine megafauna to help prioritise the required management and conservation actions. We analysed 4023 admissions of seabirds recorded during 2004–2016 from four Wildlife Rehabilitation Centres (WRCs) to obtain an initial quantitative assessment of the pressures exerted on seabirds. The main marine threats identified in the Spanish North Atlantic sub-region were cachexia (52.3%) exposure to crude oil (10%) and interaction with fishing gear (5.3%). When considering all threats together, the common guillemot, the yellow-legged gull, the northern gannet, the great cormorant and the razorbill were the main affected species. In addition, we summarised the available information to perform an updated qualitative assessment of the severity of the threats faced by seabirds and marine mammals. The qualitative assessment showed that marine mammals are especially vulnerable to bycatch, vessel collision, and pollution-related threats, whilst seabirds are particularly sensitive to oil spills, bycatch and marine litter. This type of assessment studies can aid in the identification of priority areas and/or species where management measures should be applied to ensure that the ultimate goal of the MSFD, sustainable conservation of the marine environment, is reached.
A voluntary commercial vessel slowdown trial was conducted through 16 nm of shipping lanes overlapping critical habitat of at-risk southern resident killer whales (SRKW) in the Salish Sea. From August 7 to October 6, 2017, the trial requested piloted vessels to slow to 11 knots speed-through-water. Analysis of AIS vessel tracking data showed that 350 of 951 (37%) piloted transits achieved this target speed, 421 of 951 (44%) transits achieved speeds within one knot of this target (i.e., ≤12 knots), and 55% achieved speeds ≤ 13 knots. Slowdown results were compared to ‘Baseline’ noise of the same region, matched across lunar months. A local hydrophone listening station in Lime Kiln State Park, 2.3 km from the shipping lane, recorded 1.2 dB reductions in median broadband noise (10–100,000 Hz, rms) compared to the Baseline period, despite longer transit. The median reduction was 2.5 dB when filtering only for periods when commercial vessels were within 6 km radius of Lime Kiln. The reductions were highest in the 1st decade band (-3.1 dB, 10–100 Hz) and lowest in the 4th decade band (-0.3 dB reduction, 10–100 kHz). A regional vessel noise model predicted noise for a range of traffic volume and vessel speed scenarios for a 1133 km2 ‘Slowdown region’ containing the 16 nm of shipping lanes. A temporally and spatially explicit simulation model evaluated the changes in traffic volume and speed on SRKW in their foraging habitat within this Slowdown region. The model tracked the number and magnitude of noise-exposure events that impacted each of 78 (simulated) SRKW across different traffic scenarios. These disturbance metrics were simplified to a cumulative effect termed ‘potential lost foraging time’ that corresponded to the sum of disturbance events described by assumptions of time that whales could not forage due to noise disturbance. The model predicted that the voluntary Slowdown trial achieved 22% reduction in ‘potential lost foraging time’ for SRKW, with 40% reductions under 100% 11-knot participation. Slower vessel speeds reduced underwater noise in the Slowdown area despite longer passage times and therefore suggest this is an effective way to benefit SRKW habitat function in the vicinity of shipping lanes.
Widespread coastal urbanization has resulted in artificial light pollution encroaching into intertidal habitats, which are highly valued by society for ecosystem services including coastal protection, climate regulation and recreation. While the impacts of artificial light at night in terrestrial and riparian ecosystems are increasingly well documented, those on organisms that reside in coastal intertidal habitats are less well explored. The distribution of artificial light at night from seaside promenade lighting was mapped across a sandy shore, and its consequences for macroinvertebrate community structure quantified accounting for other collinear environmental variables known to shape biodiversity in intertidal ecosystems (shore height, wave exposure and organic matter content). Macroinvertebrate community composition significantly changed along artificial light gradients. Greater numbers of species and total community biomass were observed with increasing illumination, a relationship that was more pronounced (increased effects size) with increasing organic matter availability. Individual taxa exhibited different relationships with artificial light illuminance; the abundances of 27% of non-rare taxa [including amphipods (Amphipoda), catworms (Nephtys spp.), and sand mason worms (Lanice conchilega)] decreased with increasing illumination, while 20% [including tellins (Tellinidae spp.), lugworms (Arenicola marina) and ragworms (Nereididae spp.)] increased. Possible causes of these relationships are discussed, including direct effects of artificial light on macroinvertebrate behaviour and indirect effects via trophic interactions. With increasing light pollution in coastal zones around the world, larger scale changes in intertidal ecosystems could be occurring.