Over 60% of the world’s reefs experience damage from local activities such as overfishing, coastal development, and watershed pollution. Land-based sources of pollution are a critical threat to coral reefs, and understanding “ridge-to-reef” changes is urgently needed to improve management and coral survival in the Anthropocene. We review existing literature on spatial-ecological connections between land use and coral health, specifically examining vegetative, agricultural, urban, and other land-use types. In general, forested land use is positively related to metrics of coral condition, while anthropogenic land uses like urban development and agriculture drive a decline in coral cover, diversity, colony size, and structural complexity. However, land-use and land-cover impacts vary across time and space, and small portions of the landscape (e.g., discrete segments of unpaved roads, grazed and scalded hillsides) may have an outsized effect on reef pollution, presenting opportunities for targeted conservation. Some coral species show resilience under land-use and land-cover change, and the impact of land use on coral recovery from bleaching remains an active area of research. Finally, a spatial bibliography of existing literature reveals that most ridge-to-reef studies focus on a handful of regional hotspots, surface water, and watershed-scale dynamics; more research is needed to address groundwater connectivity and to compare land-use impacts across multiple regions and scales. Approaches from landscape ecology that assess spatial patterns of, and synergies between, interlocking land cover may assist conservation managers in designing more resilient reefscapes.
Human Impacts on the Environment
Disposal of mine tailings in marine shallow water ecosystems represents an environmental challenge, and the present paper reports results from a field study in Frænfjorden, Norway, which is subject to such disposal. Structural and functional responses of benthic infauna and epifauna were investigated along a gradient from heavy tailings deposition to reference conditions. The tailings clearly impacted the faunal composition, with lowered species number close to the outfall. Total abundance of infauna increased in the most impacted area due to dominance of opportunistic species, whereas the epifauna was reduced and represented by a few scattered specimens only. In the most impacted area functional responses included an increase in mobile carnivores/omnivores and species utilizing symbionts. Sessile and tube-living taxa, and deposit and suspension feeders decreased, probably due to smothering in combination with tailings-associated changes of the substrate. Functional diversity decreased for both infauna and epifauna, but less than the structural diversity.
We examine the dive and movement behavior of blue, fin, and humpback whales along the US West Coast in regions with high ship traffic where ship strikes have been identified as a major concern. All three species are known to feed in coastal waters near areas of high ship traffic. We analyzed data from 33 archival tag deployments representing over 3,000 h of data that were attached with suction-cups or short darts for periods >20 h and recorded depth (≥ 1 Hz), fast-lock GPS positions and other sensors. There were clear differences among the three species but all showed a distinct diurnal difference in diving behavior. While dive depth varied among animals based on where prey was located, whales spent a high proportion of their time closer to the surface where they would be more vulnerable to ship strikes at night than in the day. This was most pronounced for blue whales where vulnerability was twice as high at night compared to the day. We also found differences in movement patterns of whales between day and night. Movements were more localized to specific areas in the day near prey resources while at night these movements often involved directional movements (though sometimes returning to the same area). We show how in several specific areas like the Santa Barbara Channel, these differences in movements and locations translate to a very different overlap with shipping lanes at night compared to the daytime locations, which is the basis for most sighting data.
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.
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.