Date: January 24, 2012
Multiple Human Activities Impact Ocean Habitats
A survey of top marine scientists leads to maps illustrating cumulative impacts of a broad range of human activities on marine ecosystems.
Boston, MA – New research reveals the cumulative impacts of human activities on marine ecosystems in Massachusetts’ state and federal waters. Given the diversity of human uses and natural resources that converge in coastal waters, the potential independent and cumulative impacts of those uses on marine ecosystems are important to consider during ocean planning. This research was conducted by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and SeaPlan. NCEAS conducted similar cumulative impacts studies in a number of other locations, including on a global scale, and modified the methodology for application in Massachusetts waters.
For this study, 57 regional ecosystem experts completed a survey to gauge the relative vulnerability of marine ecosystems to current and emerging human stressors, such as fishing, nutrient input, and energy infrastructures. Survey results were then combined with spatial information on the distribution of marine ecosystems and human stressors to map cumulative impacts in Massachusetts waters. The study resulted in cumulative impacts maps and an ecosystem vulnerability matrix, both which yield insight into which ecosystems and places are most vulnerable and which human uses, alone and in combination, are putting the most stress on marine ecosystems.
Maps of cumulative impacts in Massachusetts waters highlight areas of intense use, especially within the coastal zone, where as many as twenty and no fewer than five different human stressors co-occur over the course of a year. Ecological experts rank benthic habitats as most vulnerable to disturbance by human activities (especially hard bottom shelf, and nearshore hard and soft bottom). They rank ocean warming, ocean acidification, invasive species, increased ultraviolet radiation, and ocean pollution among the worst threats to New England marine ecosystems.
This study was designed to support the development and implementation of the 2009 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan. These products can be used in a number of ways, including to help clarify ocean planning decisions and assess ecological, economic and social values.
As noted by Andrew Rosenberg, Professor of Marine Sciences/Marine Policy/Fisheries at the University of New Hampshire and Senior Vice President of Conservation international., “This study fills a critical need, allowing managers and policymakers to see for the first time the effects of the many different human uses on the waters off Massachusetts. This information will provide insight into where new human uses of the oceans might best be sited.”
SeaPlan, an independent nonprofit organization committed to furthering science-based, stakeholder informed ocean planning, initiated and co-authored this study with NCEAS. Stone Environmental Inc. and Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management also assisted in conducting this study.
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