Urbanization and human-led development have increased more rapidly along shorelines and in coastal watersheds than inland regions over the past century. The result of major land use changes for both urban tracts and agriculture to serve the urban areas, as well as infrastructure development is increased runoff carrying sediments, nutrients, pollutants, pharmaceuticals, and toxins downstream to estuarine systems. The increased runoff levels are only the tip of the iceberg, with human development resulting in increased fecal bacteria from urbanization and excess nutrients from agriculture leading to harmful algal blooms. Estuaries act as a natural filter between land and sea, but have been overloaded by the influx of sediments and pollutants in recent decades. As a result, there have been a variety of impacts to estuarine ecosystems and water quality including increased sediment load, eutrophication, harmful algal blooms, fecal bacteria, as well as shellfish and fisheries declines. In some estuarine systems, the reduction in light penetration to the benthos has led to the loss of seagrasses. In others, seasonal hypoxia is a visible symptom of prolonged eutrophication. There is a need to augment long-term monitoring techniques with new technologies and data processing methods to better understand the current state of estuaries and work towards mitigating human impacts on estuarine ecosystems and water quality.
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The authors are grateful to the participants of CERF 2017 Session 1299: Ruth Carmichael, Nelle D’Aversa, Bethany DeCourten, Naomi Detenbeck, Brooke Frohloff, Alexandria Hounshell, Michael T. Lee, Haley Nicholson, and Guangming Zheng, as well as the organizers of the CERF 2017 Biennial Conference in Providence, RI. LAF appreciates feedback and support from Art Miller & Simon Freeman. AMF is grateful for released-time support from NJCU-College of Arts & Sciences. AQ: the Houston-Galveston Area Council graciously provided the land use land cover data (http://www.h-gac.com/; December 2016). Without this data and support from the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, this work would not have been possible. CNS thanks USACE, Baltimore District, D. Brietburg, R. Burrell, (Smithsonian Environmental Research Center) A. Keppel, and L. Wallendorf (United States Naval Academy). An anonymous reviewer provided constructive suggestions that greatly improved the quality of this manuscript.
DRC is supported by the NC Sea Grant (R/MG-1522). DAL is supported by the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa through a postdoctoral fellowship (grant number 112650)
Communicated by Kenneth L. Heck
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Freeman, L.A., Corbett, D.R., Fitzgerald, A.M. et al. Impacts of Urbanization and Development on Estuarine Ecosystems and Water Quality. Estuaries and Coasts 42, 1821–1838 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-019-00597-z
- Estuarine ecosystems
- Water quality
- Human impacts
- Suspended sediments
- Harmful algal blooms