, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 1249-1260
Date: 24 Sep 2010

Medium- and Long-term Recovery of Estuarine and Coastal Ecosystems: Patterns, Rates and Restoration Effectiveness

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Abstract

Many estuarine and coastal marine ecosystems have increasingly experienced degradation caused by multiple stressors. Anthropogenic pressures alter natural ecosystems and the ecosystems are not considered to have recovered unless secondary succession has returned the ecosystem to the pre-existing condition or state. However, depending upon the scales of time, space and intensity of anthropogenic disturbance, return along the historic trajectory of the ecosystem may: (1) follow natural restoration though secondary succession; (2) be re-directed through ecological restoration, or (3) be unattainable. In order to address the gaps in knowledge about restoration and recovery of estuarine and coastal ecosystems, this special feature includes the present overview and other contributions to provide a synthesis of our knowledge about recovery patterns, rates and restoration effectiveness. From the 51 examples collated in this contribution, we refine the recovery from the list of stressors into six recovery mechanisms: (1) recovery from sediment modification, which includes all aspects of dredging and disposal; (2) recovery by complete removal of stressors limiting natural ecosystem processes, which includes tidal marsh and inundation restoration; (3) recovery by speed of organic degradation, which includes oil discharge, fish farm wastes, sewage disposal, and paper mill waste; (4) recovery from persistent pollutants, which includes chemical discharges, such as TBT; (5) recovery from excessive biological removal, related to fisheries and (6) recovery from hydrological and morphological modification. Drawing upon experience both from these many examples and from an example of one comprehensive study, we show that although in some cases recovery can take <5 years, especially for the short-lived and high-turnover biological components, full recovery of coastal marine and estuarine ecosystems from over a century of degradation can take a minimum of 15–25 years for attainment of the original biotic composition and diversity may lag far beyond that period.