BOX 3-1 Nutrient Contamination of Coastal Waters: Attacking a Difficult Problem
Maintaining the chemical and biological integrity of coastal waters in the face of an influx of nutrients and other pollutants generated by continuing demographic, economic, and technological growth in the watersheds of coastal areas has become a major challenge. Past efforts to protect coastal waters by addressing thermal pollution, soil loss and sediment control, toxic substances, and dredging have deflected attention from what is probably the most significant threat to many coastal waters—excessive nutrient loading. Nutrient inputs to aquatic ecosystems lead to deficiencies of dissolved oxygen. Degraded water quality, in turn, has significant negative impacts on biological resources, such as fish and shellfish. Rapid population growth, coastline development, increases in agricultural fertilization and the density of farm animals, and atmospheric inputs continue to increase the severity of the problem.
To mitigate nutrient contamination of coastal waters, problem-driven research is needed to answer questions such as the following:
Consistent monitoring and accurate modeling are also needed to understand natural cycles, ascertain anthropogenic sources of variability, indicate the efficacy of pollution control programs, delineate research needs, and identify potential problems as they begin to develop. Monitoring and modeling must be coordinated and interactive. A key task will be to characterize and quantify the nonpoint sources of contaminants.