Anthropogenic influences marine ecosystem function via multiple stressors. Since the emphasis of the ecosystem based approach to environmental management is going to be placed on ecosystem function, the ability to discriminate between the different stressors and their impacts on ecosystem health will be crucial to support and implement cost-effective and coherent management policy.
This is illustrated in the current legislative framework in the EU by the polluter pays principle, and within the directives relating to inland and transitional water bodies. For example, the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) has a framework for integrated water management by river basin, requiring consideration of point- or diffuse-pollution sources.
With regards to eutrophication as a case in point, understanding the possible sources of nitrogen and phosphorous to coastal ecosystems and tracing the nutrient loads to their source, as well as differentiating their effects within marine trophic chains is vital for the protection of coastal environments.
Identifying, differentiating and quantifying contamination sources can help target management efforts to reduce inputs inclusive of the application of corrective or penalizing measures directed at non-compliant stakeholders.
Research within this theme is organized around 5 main questions:
- May we quantitatively distinguish different freshwater input paths into a marine ecosystem, and if so, by what means?
- Are nutrient and contaminant loadings associated with different input pathways quantitatively distinguishable at the receiving ecotone?
- Can the transfer of fertilizer-sourced nutrients to and through the local marine foodweb be identified and traced back to its source?
- Can different pollutant loads into a particular coastal ecotone be traced back to their source?
- What is the relative weight of Submarine Groundwater Discharge (SGD) as a potential pollutant transfer pathway within a particular coastline and how does this affect integrated management of water resources?