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Clean Coastal Waters: Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution
Nutrient enrichment can have arange of effects on coastal systems. On occasion, in some ecosystems moderate nutrient enrichment can be beneficial because increased primary production can lead to increased fish populations and harvest (Jørgensen and Richardson 1996; Nixon 1998). Far more often, when nutrient enrichment is sufficiently great, the effects are detrimental. In some cases, even small increases in nutrient inputs can be quite damaging to certain types of ecosystems, such as those particularly susceptible to changed conditions (e.g., coral reefs).
Direct and indirect ecological impacts of nutrient enrichment include increased primary productivity, increased phytoplankton biomass, reduction in water clarity, increased incidences of low oxygen events (hypoxia and anoxia), and changes in the trophic structure, trophic interactions, and trophodynamics of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and benthic communities. Harmful algal blooms may become more frequent and extensive. Coral reefs and submerged macrophytic vegetation, such as seagrass beds and kelp beds, may be degraded or destroyed. Fish kills may occur, and more importantly, subtle changes in ecological structure may lead to lowered fishery production. Generally, nutrient over-enrichment leads to ecological changes that decrease the biotic diversity of the ecosystem.
The ecological effects of nutrient over-enrichment can have societal impacts as well, although the economic consequences are generally difficult to quantify. These include aesthetic impacts, such as loss of visually exciting coral reefs and seagrass beds, as well as production of noxious odors and unappealing piles of algal detritus on beaches. Fishery resources can be damaged or lost. Human health is threatened by accumulation of toxins in shellfish. Property can be devalued. This chapter summarizes the societal impacts of nutrient enrichment.
Increased Primary Productivity
As discussed earlier in this report, eutrophication is a process of increasing organic enrichment of an ecosystem where the increased rate of supply of organic matter causes changes to that system (Nixon 1995). This increased rate of supply is driven by primary productivity. Primary productivity is affected by a variety of factors, including light availability, nutrients, and grazing mortality. The interplay of these factors determines how a coastal marine ecosystem will respond to nutrient additions. (These and other factors that determine an estuary’s sensitivity to eutrophication are discussed in detail in Chapter 6.) For many systems, primary productivity is limited largely by nutrient availability, and in these systems