Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Restoring Damaged Aquatic Ecosystems

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Restoring Damaged Aquatic Ecosystems

Article excerpt

Aquatic ecosystems play a major role to ensure that water, which is both essential and scarce, is always available for both present and future generations. This has become even more urgent in light of the ongoing increase in total world population and predicted changes in the world climate. Since aquatic ecosystems have been and are being damaged at a rate far in excess of both natural restoration and anthropogenic restoration it is essential that both restorative processes be accelerated. However, ecological disequilibrium, evolutionary processes, and invasive species are likely to disrupt both processes. Most current debate focuses on water distribution but, since the heath of the aquatic ecosystem plays a major role in water quality and availability, it is argued that sustainable use of the planet requires that this attribute be given greater attention. The prospects for fully restoring damaged aquatic ecosystems to predisturbance conditions increasingly appear unlikely. Partial restoration now appears to be a more accurate description of the process, although full ecological restoration should always remain an aspiration.

Key Words: Restoring aquatic ecosystems; Ecosystem restoration; Adaptive management; Unified strategy; Restoration trust fund.

Aquatic ecosystems are responsible for a wide variety of functions valuable to human society. They transform wastes to less objectionable, sometimes useful, materials; recycle nutrients; recharge groundwater aquifers; serve as habitat for wildlife; are a valuable recreational, and aesthetic resource; attenuate floods; and augment and maintain stream flow. The world's rapid population growth, coupled with the industrialization of many parts of the world, has resulted in pollution of surface waters by insecticides, toxic chemicals, sewage, petroleum and petroleum products, eroded soils, and a variety of other stresses, including urban runoff from the creation of impervious surfaces such as roads and buildings. At the same time that these stresses have increased, water consumption has increased dramatically, as have interbasin transfers of water, damming streams, and the like. The increased delivery of sediments from agriculture, construction projects, and clearcutting and other forestry management practices in terrestrial systems has produced turbidity and sedimentation in riverine channels, lakes, and reservoirs, and concomitant losses of water storage and conveyance capacity. All these stresses have reduced both the quantity and quality of habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as damaged recreational and aesthetic values important to the tourist industry. These trends are accompanied by the extinction or endangering of aquatic organisms and reduce many beneficial water uses, including drinking, swimming, and fishing. Arresting these trends and restoring the self-maintaining, self-regulating capacity of aquatic ecosystems to some semblance of their former state are essential. Enlightened societies in various parts of the globe have already begun halting trends and restoring ecosystems and have provided both economic and ecological benefits in so doing.

Practically all aquatic ecosystems have been damaged (i.e., altered from their pristine condition) by anthropogenic activities. With the human population at its present size and distribution, restoration to pristine conditions may not only be ecologically improbable but could result in strong social resistance both because of financial drain and disruption of present human activities. Partial restoration does not imply such grand objectives but does suggest making most aquatic ecosystems more ecologically sound than they now are. This action would deter society from continuing to damage systems, which, in the minds of many, is the only course of action since ecosystems cannot be returned to their predisturbance condition. To another mindset, which takes as a sine qua non that continuing destruction is not acceptable and neither is the present condition, some improved condition is highly desirable. …

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