This is the first study to assess the social costs of marine debris washed ashore and litter left behind by beach visitors along different European coasts. Three identical surveys, including a discrete choice experiment, are implemented at six beaches along different European coastlines: the Mediterranean Sea in Greece, the Black Sea in Bulgaria and the North Sea in the Netherlands. Beach visitors are asked for their experiences with beach litter and their willingness to volunteer in beach clean-up programs and their willingness to pay an entrance fee or increase in local tax to clean up marine litter. Significant differences are found between countries. This has important implications for the size and transferability of the estimated social costs of marine litter across Europe.
Plastic marine debris is a global problem, but due to its widespread and patchy distribution, gathering sufficient samples for scientific research is challenging with limited ship time and human resources. Taking advantage of public interest in the impact of plastic on the marine environment, successful Citizen Science (CS) programs incorporate members of the public to provide repeated sampling for time series as well as synoptic collections over wide geographic regions. A key challenge with any CS program is to ensure standardized methods and quality control so that the samples and data can legitimately be compared and used in peer-reviewed research. This article describes several successful examples and outlines suggestions for projects cooperating with citizen scientists to provide reliable samples and accurate data, with benefits to science, citizen scientists, and society in general.
Plastic in the global oceans fulfills two of the three conditions for pollution to pose a planetary boundary threat because it is causing planetary-scale exposure that is not readily reversible. Plastic is a planetary boundary threat if it is having a currently unrecognized disruptive effect on a vital Earth system process. Discovering possible unknown effects is likely to be aided by achieving a fuller understanding of the environmental fate of plastic. Weathering of plastic generates microplastic, releases chemical additives, and likely also produces nanoplastic and chemical fragments cleaved from the polymer backbone. However, weathering of plastic in the marine environment is not well understood in terms of time scales for fragmentation and degradation, the evolution of particle morphology and properties, and hazards of the chemical mixture liberated by weathering. Biofilms that form and grow on plastic affect weathering, vertical transport, toxicity, and uptake of plastic by marine organisms and have been underinvestigated. Laboratory studies, field monitoring, and models of the impact of weathering on plastic debris are needed to reduce uncertainty in hazard and risk assessments for known and suspected adverse effects. However, scientists and decision makers must also recognize that plastic in the oceans may have unanticipated effects about which we are currently ignorant. Possible impacts that are currently unknown can be confronted by vigilant monitoring of plastic in the oceans and discovery-oriented research related to the possible effects of weathering plastic.
We provide evidence for temporal displacement of illegal discharges of oil from shipping, a major source of ocean pollution, in response to a monitoring technology that features variation in the probability of conviction by time of day. During the nighttime, evidence collected by Coast Guard aircraft using radar becomes contestable in court because the nature of an identified spot cannot be verified visually by an observer on board of the aircraft. Seasonal variation in time of sunset is used to distinguish evasive behavior from daily routines on board. Using data from surveillance flights above the Dutch part of the North Sea during 1992–2011, we provide evidence for a sudden increase in illegal discharges after sunset across the year. Our results show that even a tiny chance of getting caught and a mild punishment can have a major impact on behavior.
The Gulf of California (GC) is an unique large ecosystem characterized by its rich biodiversity, high biological productivity and endemism of marine life. However, as many other large ecosystems worldwide, it is subject to diverse anthropogenic pressures (overfishing, climate change, losses of biodiversity and habitats, and pollution). We reviewed over 150 studies dealing with contaminants in water, sediments and representative organisms from the GC, and here we discuss the main issues associated to the presence of metals, metalloids, persistent organic pollutants (POPs, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated diphenyl ethers (deca tri-a) (PBDEs), and several other pesticides), plastics, nutrients and algal blooms. The GC ecosystems have been subject to a wide range of pollution sources. Nevertheless, the pollution levels remain relatively low to moderate depending on the location and contaminant type. Contamination hotspots are found i) for metals and metalloids, in sites where mining spills have occurred and ii) for nutrients and pesticides, in wetlands that receive discharges from intensive agricultural and shrimp farming. We also identified sites where harmful algal blooms (HABs) have been observed. However, numerous coastal environments in GC, affected by pollution sources and events have yet been poorly studied. More detailed, extensive and comprehensive studies on the pollution levels and trends, transfer and toxic effects are still needed.
The disruption of the coral–algae symbiosis (coral bleaching) due to rising sea surface temperatures has become an unprecedented global threat to coral reefs. Despite decades of research, our ability to manage mass bleaching events remains hampered by an incomplete mechanistic understanding of the processes involved. In this study, we induced a coral bleaching phenotype in the absence of heat and light stress by adding sugars. The sugar addition resulted in coral symbiotic breakdown accompanied by a fourfold increase of coral-associated microbial nitrogen fixation. Concomitantly, increased N:P ratios by the coral host and algal symbionts suggest excess availability of nitrogen and a disruption of the nitrogen limitation within the coral holobiont. As nitrogen fixation is similarly stimulated in ocean warming scenarios, here we propose a refined coral bleaching model integrating the cascading effects of stimulated microbial nitrogen fixation. This model highlights the putative role of nitrogen-fixing microbes in coral holobiont functioning and breakdown.
Lionfish (Pterois miles) were observed avoiding coral pinnacles inhabited by the moray eels Gymnothorax flavimarginatus and G. javanicus in the northern Red Sea, Egypt. Release of lionfish (Standard Length 93–104 mm) in such coral pinnacles in November 2016 resulted in almost immediate predation by large moray eels (Total Length > 1 m). Predation by moray eels may be the key control mechanism of population growth in the native biogeographical range of Pterois spp. and may indirectly explain the success of the invasive populations. This is the first video-documented record of moray eels feeding on the lionfish P. miles.
Reef sharks may influence the foraging behaviour of mesopredatory teleosts on coral reefs via both risk effects and competitive exclusion. We used a “natural experiment” to test the hypothesis that the loss of sharks on coral reefs can influence the diet and body condition of mesopredatory fishes by comparing two remote, atoll-like reef systems, the Rowley Shoals and the Scott Reefs, in northwestern Australia. The Rowley Shoals are a marine reserve where sharks are abundant, whereas at the Scott Reefs numbers of sharks have been reduced by centuries of targeted fishing. On reefs where sharks were rare, the gut contents of five species of mesopredatory teleosts largely contained fish while on reefs with abundant sharks, the same mesopredatory species consumed a larger proportion of benthic invertebrates. These measures of diet were correlated with changes in body condition, such that the condition of mesopredatory teleosts was significantly poorer on reefs with higher shark abundance. Condition was defined as body weight, height and width for a given length and also estimated via several indices of condition. Due to the nature of natural experiments, alternative explanations cannot be discounted. However, the results were consistent with the hypothesis that loss of sharks may influence the diet and condition of mesopredators and by association, their fecundity and trophic role. Regardless of the mechanism (risk effects, competitive release, or other), our findings suggest that overfishing of sharks has the potential to trigger trophic cascades on coral reefs and that further declines in shark populations globally should be prevented to protect ecosystem health.
Coral reefs serve as natural barriers that protect adjacent shorelines from coastal hazards such as storms, waves, and erosion. Projections indicate global degradation of coral reefs due to anthropogenic impacts and climate change will cause a transition to net erosion by mid-century. Here, we provide a comprehensive assessment of the combined effect of all of the processes affecting seafloor accretion and erosion by measuring changes in seafloor elevation and volume for five coral reef ecosystems in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean over the last several decades. Regional-scale mean elevation and volume losses were observed at all five study sites and in 77 % of the 60 individual habitats that we examined across all study sites. Mean seafloor elevation losses for whole coral reef ecosystems in our study ranged from −0.09 to −0.8 m, corresponding to net volume losses ranging from 3.4 × 106 to 80.5 × 106 m3 for all study sites. Erosion of both coral-dominated substrate and non-coral substrate suggests that the current rate of carbonate production is no longer sufficient to support net accretion of coral reefs or adjacent habitats. We show that regional-scale loss of seafloor elevation and volume has accelerated the rate of relative sea level rise in these regions. Current water depths have increased to levels not predicted until near the year 2100, placing these ecosystems and nearby communities at elevated and accelerating risk to coastal hazards. Our results set a new baseline for projecting future impacts to coastal communities resulting from degradation of coral reef systems and associated losses of natural and socioeconomic resources.
The subtropical ocean gyres are recognized as great marine accummulation zones of floating plastic debris; however, the possibility of plastic accumulation at polar latitudes has been overlooked because of the lack of nearby pollution sources. In the present study, the Arctic Ocean was extensively sampled for floating plastic debris from the Tara Oceans circumpolar expedition. Although plastic debris was scarce or absent in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations (hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer) in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas. The fragmentation and typology of the plastic suggested an abundant presence of aged debris that originated from distant sources. This hypothesis was corroborated by the relatively high ratios of marine surface plastic to local pollution sources. Surface circulation models and field data showed that the poleward branch of the Thermohaline Circulation transfers floating debris from the North Atlantic to the Greenland and Barents seas, which would be a dead end for this plastic conveyor belt. Given the limited surface transport of the plastic that accumulated here and the mechanisms acting for the downward transport, the seafloor beneath this Arctic sector is hypothesized as an important sink of plastic debris.