Laura Airoldi & Michael Beck on European Coastal Marine Habitats

Fast Moving Front Commentary, September 2011

Laura Airoldi & Michael W. Beck

Article: Loss, status and trends for coastal marine habitats of Europe

Authors: Airoldi, L;Beck, MW
Journal: OCEANOGR MAR BIOL, 45: 345-405, 2007
Addresses: Univ Bologna, Dipartimento Biol Evoluz Sperimentale, Via S Alberto 163, I-48100 Ravenna, Italy.
Univ Bologna, Dipartimento Biol Evoluz Sperimentale, I-48100 Ravenna, Italy.
Univ Bologna, Ctr Interdipartimental Ric Sci Ambientali Ravenna, I-48100 Ravenna, Italy.
(Commentary Is for May 2011 [late entry], and Addresses have been truncated)

Laura Airoldi & Michael W. Beck talk with and answer a few questions about this month's Fast Moving Fronts paper in the field of Plant & Animal Science.

SW: Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

The paper examines the drastic decline of coastal marine habitats across Europe and calls for regulatory changes to improve their protection. The paper is comprehensive in that it examines the condition of the most critical coastal marine habitats across Europe; it provides the historical context on how we got to this point; identifies the ongoing pressing threats; and highlights some of the policies that can help. It brings to fore a number of critical issues and gaps, which have stirred subsequent research and interest on the topic not only among ecologists but also among the general public and policymakers.

SW: Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

The paper is a comprehensive synthesis of knowledge on the extent and projected trends of marine habitat loss, and aims to redress major oversights and neglects of global significance on the topic. It is geographically and temporally relevant, providing historical estimates of marine habitat loss around European coastlines, and serves as a reference base for researchers dealing with marine habitat loss and recovery around the globe.

The paper is also novel in providing a summary of most relevant EU and national legislations regarding marine habitat conservation. Interestingly, one of the reasons for citation of the paper is that it offers a clear definition for the term "habitat loss," which is the necessary precursor to the development of conservation and sustainable management practices.

SW: Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

Laura Airoldi & Michael W. Beck
Coauthor Michael Beck.

Europe has lost most of its significant marine habitats, such as salt marsh, seagrass meadows, and oyster reefs, because of centuries of overuse, neglect, and poor management practices. These habitats are hugely significant in their values to people naturally, culturally, and monetarily (e.g., in fisheries, tourism, coastal defense). We are still losing those habitats today, and that seems to happen one small plot at a time until you sum it up and look at the big picture. We hope the value in our paper is in seeing the big picture of habitat loss in Europe, understanding its causes, and hopefully helping to identify solutions to it.

SW: How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you've encountered along the way?

As coastal ecologists we are very interested in the interface between science, policy, and practice. We have long been concerned about what has seemed like a great pace of loss in the habitats that we worked on. It was, however, difficult to convey this to others without much better documentation, clear numbers, and causes.

The greatest challenge of addressing marine habitat loss arises in large measure because of the limited perception humans have about the oceans, their marine life, and their threats. The success of this paper is a commitment to redouble the efforts to ensure that the scientific knowledge about marine processes and human impacts is transferred in an unbiased manner to society and decision-makers.

SW: Where do you see your research leading in the future?

Many marine populations and ecosystems have experienced strong historical depletions, yet current research shows that the sensible management of marine resources can lead to successful recoveries. Our current research efforts center on identifying and implementing realistic conservation, restoration, and management strategies that build upon the natural resilience of marine systems.

SW: Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

We very much hope that this work has practical application to guide conservation and management. It helps that we are highly engaged with conservationists and managers both at organizational levels and on advisory boards. We firmly believe that strong science can inform action and we are using the understanding of losses and threats to guide action. It helps substantially that we can use our network of practitioner and policy colleagues, particularly at The Nature Conservancy, to find opportunities to apply this critical science.End

Laura Airoldi
Dipartimento di Biologia Evoluzionistica Sperimentale
Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca per le Scienze Ambientali
Università di Bologna
Ravenna, Italy

Michael W. Beck
The Nature Conservancy
Institute of Marine Sciences
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA, USA



   |   BACK TO TOP