Despite all my hype about urban marine ecology, it’s a field that really doesn’t exist yet. At least not in any standardized or formal way. It’s a discipline in the making, inspired by the explosion of research in terrestrial urban ecology and a void of comparable knowledge when it comes to the marine environment in cities.
You may have seen the statistics about coastal population growth. Overall, it’s estimated that we will reach a population of 8 billion in ten years. Currently about 50% of people live in coastal areas, but by 2025, it’s expected that that percentage will increase to 75%. That an estimated 6 million people living within 100km of a coastline!
The movement of people to coastal areas is not uniform. Check out this graphic from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of population change in coastal watersheds (link). From this, you can see that population in more rural coastal areas is actually decreasing. People aren’t just moving to the coasts. They’re moving to coastal cities.
What will be the effect of population growth on marine ecosystems? We have no idea. Not only are we limited in our understanding of what these will look like in the future – we know almost nothing about the characteristics of urban marine ecosystems today. Much work is needed to characterize the biodiversity of these systems, understand their ecological processes and identify how they differ from their natural, more rural ecological counterparts. In many respects, these are systems of our own making. Don’t you want to know what we’ve created? I certainly do. There’s much work ahead!