Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective

By Torben C. Rick; Jon M. Erlandson | Go to book overview

3
Aleut Hunters, Sea Otters, and Sea Cows
THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF INTERACTIONS
IN THE WESTERN ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA

Debra G. Corbett, Douglas Causey, Mark Clementz, Paul L. Koch, Angela Doroff, Christine Lefèvre, and Dixie West

AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGISTS have long considered environmental reconstruction integral to interpreting ancient cultures. Interdisciplinary studies involving geologists, soil scientists, palynologists, faunal analysts, and tree ring specialists all contribute to the interpretation of past human cultures and provide a framework for interpreting cultural change (Butzer 1982; Watson et al. 1971). In recent years, environmental reconstructions attracted the interest of wider audiences as biologists and environmentalists have sought information to restore damaged ecosystems. As our understanding of ecosystem processes increases, it is clear historical conditions and records are inadequate to characterize ecosystem variability and function. Paleoenvironmental studies are gaining greater urgency due to concern over global climate change. Marine ecosystems are also receiving increased scrutiny due to the collapse of virtually every major fishery around the world in recent decades (Amorosi et al. 1996; Jackson et al. 2001; Lyman 1996; Redman 1999; Reitz 2004).

Among other findings is the recognition that human impacts are far more pervasive and subtle than previously recognized. Preindustrial human impacts have shaped the modern world in ways we are only beginning to comprehend (Flannery 1994, 2001; Jackson et al. 2001; Mann 2005; Nicholson and O’Connor 2000).

Bering Sea fisheries are among the most productive on earth. Presently 25 species of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks are commercially harvested (National Research Council 1996). In 2003, 1.5 million metric tons of pollack alone were worth, after processing, $900 million (Heath et al. 2004). In 1977, the sea suddenly increased in temperature by 2°C, and fishermen and researchers alike have noticed ominous changes in the region’s fish, bird, and sea mammal populations. Several species, including nearly all of the mammals, have undergone large and sudden population fluctuations, and fish catches are declining (National Research Council 1996).

This chapter presents preliminary research into the functioning of the nearshore marine

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