Ecosystems Earth on Edge
Earth on Edge
Get Involved
Science MattersThe ProgramBuy the Book and Video  
Coastal Ecosystems'
Conditions and Changing Capacity

Intro | Profile | Case Studies | Ecosystem Assessment

Condition: Fair
Capacity: Decreasing

Global marine fish production has increased sixfold since 1950. However, this larger catch has meant greater impacts on marine ecosystems. Approximately 75 percent of the major fisheries are fully fished or overfished, and fishing fleets have the capacity to catch many more fish than the maximum sustainable yield. Some of the recent increase in the marine fish harvest come from aquaculture, which has more than doubled in production since 1990. In addition, the catch of low-value species has risen as the harvest from higher-value species has plateaued or declined, masking some effects of overfishing.

Condition: Fair
Capacity: Mixed

As the extent of mangroves, coastal wetlands, and seagrasses declines, coastal habitats are losing their pollutant-filtering capacity. Increased frequency of harmful algal blooms and hypoxia indicates that some coastal ecosystems have exceeded their ability to absorb nutrient pollutants. Although some industrial countries have improved water quality by reducing input of certain persistent organic pollutants, chemical pollutant discharges are increasing overall as agriculture intensifies and industries use new synthetic compounds. Furthermore, while large-scale marine oil spills are declining, oil discharges from land-based sources and regular shipping operations are increasing.

Condition: Fair
Capacity: Decreasing

Indicators of habitat loss, disease, invasive species, and coral bleaching all show declines in biodiversity. Sedimentation and pollution from land are smothering some coastal ecosystems, and trawling is reducing diversity in some areas. Commercial species such as Atlantic cod, five species of tuna, and haddock are threatened globally, along with several species of whales, seals, and sea turtles. Invasive species are frequently reported in ports and enclosed seas, such as the Black Sea, where the introduction of Atlantic comb jellyfish caused the collapse of fisheries.

Condition: Good
Capacity: Unknown

Tourism is the fastest-growing sector of the global economy, accounting for $3.5 trillion in 1999. Some areas have been degraded by the tourist trade, particularly coral reefs, but the effects of tourist traffic on coastal ecosystems at a global scale are unknown.

Condition: Poor
Capacity: Decreasing

Human modification of shorelines has altered currents and sediment delivery to the benefit of some beaches and detriment of others. Coastal habitats with natural buffering and adaptation capacities are being modified by development and replaced by artificial structures. Thus, the impact from storm surges has increased. Furthermore, rising sea levels, projected as a result of global warming, may threaten some coastal settlements and entire small island states.

Chart 1
Chart 2
Area within 100 km2 of a Coast
(click on image to enlarge)
Population within 100 km2 of a Coast
(click on image to enlarge)


Source note: Data are from the companion book, World Resources 2000-2001: Ecosystems and People: The Fraying Web of Life and from Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Agroecosystems (World Resources Institute, 2000).

For comprehensive data about the world's ecosystems and their current conditions and trends, visit EarthTrends at
Agricultural | Forests | Coastal | Grasslands | Freshwater | Urban
The Value of Ecosystems

Discussion Guide | Buy the Book and Video | Moyers Mailing List
Join the Discussion | Classroom Materials | Resources | Glossary | Site Credits