Photo by Terry Lilley with Lighting by Sue Sloan: Kelp Forest
Coastal Ecosystems and Marine Sanctuaries
by Carol Georgi
We can learn from marine sanctuaries how to restore, protect, and appreciate our coastal ecosystems in San Luis Obispo County.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), "National Marine Sanctuaries are unique places addressing key issues facing our world - one special place at a time. Marine sanctuaries are helping to create a new paradigm, one that encourages a change in behavior. A lifestyle that sustains our planet, rather than using our planet to sustain our lifestyle. These special places not only offer beauty and inspire wonder, but also provide solutions to the challenges facing the ocean, the planet, us. By working together, Marine Sanctuaries connect communities while working on solutions to complex problems. Now, more than ever, the protection of sanctuaries is critical to the health of fragile ecosystems."
Coastal Ecosystem and Coastal Ecosystem Science
"An ecosystem is an ecological community comprised of biological, physical, and chemical components, considered as a unit. Coastal ecosystem science is the study of inter-relationships among the living organisms, physical features, bio-chemical processes, natural phenomena, and human activities in coastal ecological communities."
Examples of Coastal Ecosystems
According to U.S. Department of Fish and Game, "A coastal ecosystem includes estuaries and coastal waters and lands located at the lower end of drainage basins, where stream and river systems meet the sea and are mixed by tides. The coastal ecosystem includes saline, brackish (mixed saline and fresh), and fresh waters, as well as coastlines and the adjacent lands. All these water and land forms interact as integrated ecological units. Shorelands, dunes, offshore islands, barrier islands, headlands, and freshwater wetlands within estuarine drainages are included in the definition since these interrelated features are crucial to coastal fish and wildlife and their habitats. A variety of animals and plants complete the ecological system. Coastal wetlands are commonly called lagoons, salt marshes, or tidelands."
Some of our San Luis Obispo County coastal ecosystems include: Estuaries, intertidal zones, and kelp forests. These three types will be explored in future marine sanctuary articles. They are important because we depend on them to provide filtering of water, food, biodiversity, shoreline stabilization, and tourism.
According to a study by Lauretta Burke, Yumiko Kura, Ken Kassem, Carmen Revenga, Mark Spalding, and Don McAllister, at the World Resources Institute, "As coastal and inland populations continue to grow, their impacts—in terms of pollutant loads and the development and conversion of coastal habitats—can be expected to grow as well. Nutrient pollution has increased dramatically this century due to greater use of fertilizers, growth in quantities of domestic and industrial sewage, and increased aquaculture, which releases considerable amounts of waste directly into the water. Increasing fishing pressure have left many major fish stocks depleted or in decline. Global climate change may compound other pressures on coastal ecosystems through the additional effects of warmer ocean temperatures, altered ocean circulation patterns, changing storm frequency, and rising sea levels."
We urgently need to learn from marine sanctuaries how to restore, protect, and appreciate our coastal ecosystems. Since those in San Luis Obispo County fall into various city, county, and state jurisdictions, the best option for a coordinated marine effort is to become an extension of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, with a local sanctuary advisory council for county stakeholders.