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Coastal Case Studies

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The coral reef and mangrove forest of Brazil's Tamandare, Florida's Everglades, and the reefs and aquaculture systems of Bolinao in the Philippines are all coastal ecosystems. The goods and services each provide are essential to life and to the livelihoods of millions of people in those regions. Yet all these ecosystems are threatened by mismanagement and overuse. All are also experiencing attempts at restoration by a consortium of stakeholders in each location. By working together to rebuild the ecosystems on which they depend, researchers, fishers, governments, local farmers and foresters, and community activists are learning how to restore their ecosystems.

Replumbing the Everglades

South Florida, the southeastern tip of the United States, was once a 23,000 km2, unbroken marshland of sawgrass and small tree islands fed by a shallow sheet of water flowing south
(click on map to enlarge)
from Lake Okeechobee. The Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades region formed a system of rivers, lakes, and wetlands that controlled water flow, mitigated seasonal flooding, filtered sediment, and provided habitats for hundreds of avian, reptilian, mammalian, and plant species.

In 1848, however, the federal government began draining the Everglades to convert the region to agriculture. Dikes and a web of canals were constructed, creating a series of disconnected tracts of water. Agroecosystems, mostly planted in sugarcane, took over and still comprise the northern third of the Everglades today.

These changes in the natural flow of water in the region greatly reduced the quantity of freshwater reaching the coast at Florida Bay. The result? Estuary salinity levels were disrupted causing the seagrasses to die off. As their food sources and nesting and spawning sites became
LanSat image of South Florida

LanSat image of South Florida
(cick on image to enlarge)

degraded or disappeared, populations of many bird species dramatically declined. Biodiversity was already compromised by the killing of about 10 million alligators between 1870 and 1965, mostly hunted for their hides. It is estimated that populations of herons, egrets, storks, and spoonbills had, by 1979, decreased by 90%. In 1998 it was estimated that 68 species were endangered or threatened with extinction. Such losses severely compromised the region's biodiversity structure.

There was a positive outcome, hoever, South Florida became one of the primary producers of sugarcane, tropical fruit, and winter vegetables. Now that benefit is being threatened as agricultural land is increasingly being converted to urban areas. Furthermore, in some agricultural areas, topsoil loss from drying and oxidation of the peat soils exceeds 2 meters, nearly half the original depth. Such losses have already brought a few fields close to retirement. Some observers say the area's agricultural future is limited to only a few more decades.

In 1998 the U.S Army Corp of Engineers spearheaded a coalition of stakeholders attempting to restore the natural functioning of the Florida Everglades. The estimated cost? $7.8 billion. And that only covers the first stage of the overall restoration effort, which will undoubtedly require much longer than three decades.

Download Adobe AcrobatTo learn more about restoration efforts in the Florida's Everglades, read Replumbing the Everglades: Large-Scale Wetlands Restoration in South Florida in World Resources 2000-2001
(Free Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

Activism for Ecosystems in Bolinao

Bolinao municipality lies on the tip of a peninsula on the western coast of the Philippines. Its cascading waterfalls, rolling hills, and white beaches encompass 30 villages and 50,000 people. The 200 km2 Bolinao-Anda coral reef complex is the spawning ground for 90% of Bolinao's
(click on map to enlarge)
fish catch. More than 350 species of plants and animals are harvested from the reef and sold in Bolinao's markets annually.

In 1993 a consortium of foreign businesses announced they'd build "the world's largest cement factory" on the coral-covered shoreline of Bolinao. While some of the Bolinao residents welcomed the prospect of more jobs, others were concerned about how such a factory would affect their lives and ecosystems. The concerned citizens of Bolinao joined with researchers from the University of the Philippines and actively opposed the plan through community education and activism.

The coalition successfully fought the plans for the cement factory, but then faced another battle. Many of Bolinao's fishers use dynamite and cyanide to catch fish, practices that were destroying the reef and preventing it from regenerating. A 1986 study by researchers at the University of the Philippines documented that 60% of the region's corals had been killed, mostly thorough the use of dynamite and cyanide. In 1992 Bolinao's once-booming sea urchin industry was shut down after the urchins had been exploited nearly to extinction to satisfy export demand for urchin roe.

Today local NGOs and community activists are working toward developing a coastal resource management plan that empowers fishers and other community members. The plan was drafted by 21 representatives of the municipal government, the religious sector, members of Bolinao's fishing industry and other stakeholders and draws on research by marine biologists from the university. Bolinao offers a lesson in how to successfully develop a community's support in defense of the ecosystems on which the community depends.

Download Adobe AcrobatTo learn more about community action to save a coastal ecosystem in Bolinao in the Philippines, read Bolinao Rallies Round Its Reef in World Resources 2000-2001.
(Free Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

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Source: This profile is adapted from the companion book, World Resources 2000-2001.

For comprehensive data about the world's ecosystems, visit EarthTrends at

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