Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective

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

7
Human Impacts on Marine Environments
in the West Indies during the Middle
to Late Holocene

Scott M. Fitzpatrick, William F. Keegan, and Kathleen Sullivan Sealey

We badly need an historical ecology of sea monsters to determine the pristine
abundances and sizes of megafauna before they were fished, and to provide the
basic data for modeling their former ecological interactions with other, smaller
species and their effects on biological habitats so that we can figure out what we
have lost and decide what to do about it if we want to.

JACKSON AND SALA 2001:279

THE RECENT COLLAPSE of fisheries around the world (Jackson et al. 2001) from the overharvesting of resources, expanding coastal development, and dumping of various industrial and domestic waste products, has confirmed what many researchers in both the natural and social sciences had already suspected: humans are drastically influencing marine ecosystems to the point that many may never fully recover. The islands of the Caribbean are not immune to these impacts and are playing an increasingly important role in helping to determine the degree to which marine taxa have been altered by human activities over time. As continuing research in archaeology, history, and ecology shows, islands in the Caribbean have experienced a variety of impacts to marine environments by different human groups over the course of at least seven millennia. What effects did humans have on these once pristine environments, and how did this differ between populations?

An increasing amount of evidence has shown that a number of extinctions of both terrestrial and marine vertebrates have occurred, much of it related to human occupation (e.g., Adam 2004; James 2004; MacPhee and Marx 1997; MacPhee et al. 1989; Morgan and Woods 1986; Steadman and Jones 2006; Steadman and Stokes 2002; Steadman et al. 1984). In fact, within the past 4,500 years (well within the range of human settlement), at least 37 mammalian species have gone extinct (Morgan and Woods 1986). The extinction rate for mammals

-147-

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