Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective

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

13
Archaeology, Historical Ecology,
and the Future of Ocean Ecosystems

Torben C. Rick and Jon M. Erlandson

The persistent myth of the oceans as wilderness blinded ecologists to the massive loss
of marine ecological diversity caused by human overfishing and human inputs from
the land over the past centuries. Until the 1980s, coral reefs, kelp forests, and other
coastal habitats were discussed in scientific journals and textbooks as “natural” or
“pristine” communities with little or no reference to the pervasive absence of large ver-
tebrates or the widespread effects of pollution. This is because our concept of what is
natural today is based on personal experience at the expense of historical perspective.

JACKSON 2001:5411

RAVAGED BY OVERFISHING, pollution, eutrophication, and numerous other processes, fisheries and marine ecosystems around the world are in a state of crisis. Human populations are also growing at a much higher rate along the coast than interior areas, suggesting that the pressure placed on coastal habitats will increase dramatically in the future. Numerous studies have demonstrated that significant steps are needed to restore the world’s oceans, including the continued establishment of marine protected areas (e.g., Botsford et al. 1997; Costanza et al. 1998; Dayton et al. 1998; Ellis 2003; Jackson 2001; Jackson et al. 2001; Pauly and Palomares 2005; Pauly et al. 1998, 2005; Pew Oceans Commission 2003; Pitcher 2001; Safina 1997; Woodard 2000; Worm et al. 2006). In many ways, the future of the world’s oceans stands at a crossroads, with the balance predicated by our past, present, and future actions.

Archaeologists and anthropologists have recently played an important role in helping to inform contemporary environmental crises by supplying information on the nature of past environments, human influence on past ecosystem structure and function, and human responses to environmental deterioration (e.g., Broughton 2002; Fisher and Feinman 2005; Grayson 2001; Hayashida 2005; Johnson et al. 2005; Kay and Simmons 2002; Kirch 1997, 2004; Kohler 2004; Krech 2005; Lyman 1996; Lyman and Cannon 2004a; Martin 2005; Redman 1999; Redman et al. 2004; Roel et al. 2002; Steadman 2006; van der Leeuw and

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