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Shoreline construction - modelling the effects on fish recruitment habitats

Coastal marina                                                                           Photo: Göran Sundblad

Coastal development is responsible for much of the observed coastal habitat losses in Europe, which may exceed 80 percent in many regions. There are no clear political targets for decreasing coastal exploitation rates at a Baltic-wide scale. In Sweden, shoreline construction is regulated through the environmental code, but as exemptions are often granted, shoreline protection is not very strong.

To mitigate the potential negative effects from coastal development such as marinas, jettys and increased boating, managers and the public first of all need to be aware of the potentially large impact from construction on certain habitats. Coupling estimates of shoreline exploitation with habitat maps can be used for analysing different scenarios, and thus provide an investigative tool for estimating the ecological costs of shoreline construction.

In PREHAB, we studied the potential effects of shoreline construction, mainly involving shoreline buildings, harbours and jetties, on the recruitment habitats of fish in a Swedish archipelago area.

Perch in peril?
The results show that coastal constructions, in the form of jetties and marinas, have a strong overlap with fish recruitment habitats. Approximately one percent of available fish recruitment habitats are exploited by coastal constructions - each year. At current development rates, untouched shores may be lost in 150 years. Critically, our results indicate that recruitment habitats for perch may be fully exploited already in 100 years. Observed rates of construction are even higher in some areas, stressing the need for a management that consider the long-term cumulative impact of many small development projects.

Although in this study we were only studying effects on fish habitats, a similar approach could be adopted for other habitat types that show negative effects of this human pressure.

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Habitat effects of shoreline construction

Increasing coastal populations, especially summer residents, have led to an increase in boating and associated constructions of jetties and marinas, as well as dredging. These are slow processes that gradually alter the environment. In the long term, they may have vast effects on ecosystem functioning, affecting the goods and services provided by the coastal systems.

Estimating development rates

The development of constructions along the shoreline occurs over timescales of human generations, which makes them difficult to detect – a classical example of shifting baselines.

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