Coastal Ecology: The Time to Save is NOW or NEVER!

Fluctuations in the weather conditions reduce the efficiency of coastal area operations.

Fractionated into two, Pakistan’s coastline stretches over 990 km across Sindh (270 km) and Makran coast (720 km). Supporting a disposition of diverse creatures, natural resources, and the geographical location of Pakistan’s marine coastal belt makes it pertinent. An enriched and firm marine ecosystem influences economic stability, sustainable development, and the growth of ecosystems. With such high stakes, the protection, development, and sustenance of marine ecology are demanded.

“Coastal Ecology” elucidates the region where land and water meet. Coastal ecosystems bestow habitats for numerous varieties of marine plants and animals. It is also a hub of innumerable natural resources such as mineral deposits, oil and natural gas, and peat deposits.

Climate commutation and coastal ecology are two peas in a pod. The fluctuation in the climate not only affects land activities but undoubtedly strikes marine life. With Earth warming up, the planet saturating with population, and the ever-increasing demand for natural resources to suffice the masses, we are exhausting the natural resources. This composition will focus on looking into the coastal ecology of Pakistan, identifying the red zones, and framing out practical measures to restore nature.

“The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble” Blaise Pascal

Salient Features of Pakistan’s coastline

Pakistan’s coastline has some prominent geographical, economic, and environmental features, which explains why we need to keep a keen eye on its health. Some key features include:

  1. Sandspit and Hawksbay beaches are two of the eleven cardinal nesting beaches for Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) across the globe.
  2. Gawadar Bay is a marine wetland shared between Iran and Pakistan. It accommodates marine fisheries is a hub for various marine animals, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, migratory birds, and mangroves.
  3. A region of Bundle and Buddo Islands have abundant growth of mangroves.
  4. The Churna-Kaio Islands are rich in biodiversity as it supports a range of habitats.
Eastern coast of Pakistan. Credit: IUCN Pakistan

Dynamics in Pakistan

Coastal erosion and sediment deposition by Indus waters significantly affect the flourishing of mangrove ecosystems, called the shields of nature. Unpredictable rainfalls increase surface runoff which reduces the mudflat development, a prerequisite for mangrove development. 

Mangroves are characteristically pivotal growths as they protect the coastline from erosion, provide breeding grounds for multiple species of sea animals, source of timber and fuel, and much more. Hydrological alterations (changes in magnitude, intensity, frequency, time, and duration of natural streams and their flow) linger a constant threat to the productivity of mangroves. 

Furthermore, unforeseeable rainfalls cause vast water to gush towards flatlands, taking along the dirt. Such episodes reduce the availability of freshwater to marine life, including plants and animals. Lack of water for consumption affects the overall health of these living organisms. These unpredicted rainfalls impair coastal agriculture, which is practiced in areas of Badin and Thatta in Sindh. Water scarcity hurts the growth of crops.

Coral Reefs house approximately 25% of marine creatures in total. They are ecologically supreme creatures due to their functioning and diversity. Irrespective of this, their amount is diminished at alarming rates primarily due to climatic shifts. Rising water temperatures disturb the symbiotic relationship shared between coral reefs and microalgae. High temperatures lead to coral bleaching, a phenomenon that makes coral weak and highly prone to competing plants and diseases.

Apart from coral bleaching, soaring atmospheric temperatures cause rapid melting of frozen water bodies such as Himalayan glaciers, which upsurges water levels in water bodies. Sea level rise (SLR) increases the salinity rates of estuaries and coastal wetlands. Salinity is a threat to the water residing living beings as it disrupts the water to minerals ratio.

The marine life receives nutrient-rich sediment piles from the Indus River discharge. However, the construction of dams upstream to store water has resulted in a change in fluvial patterns. Dynamic variations in water-borne rich nutrients end in the drying of coastal creeks.

Fluctuations in the weather conditions reduce the efficiency of coastal area operations. These coastal activities earn livelihoods to many individuals and are a source of income for them. However, the water transport for freight and tourism discharges copious amounts of effluent and waste directly into water bodies. The discharge includes chemicals, toxins, and other heavy metals, leading to their death when choked by marine animals. 

Significant operations in coastal areas

Below is a list of different operations carried out in coastal areas of Pakistan.

  • Coastal agriculture
  • Shipping 
  • Fishery 
  • Communication (transport routes)
  • Oil, gas, and minerals extraction
  • Tourism
  • Energy generation

Lack of temperature consistency will affect the metabolism, reproductivity, and species interactions. Species facing such issues due to climatic shifts will be unable to reproduce, gain enough nutrition, which may cause them to be extinct over time.

Coastal ecology and mangroves
Importance of mangroves. Credit: Mangrove Action Project

In addition to this, the release of unfiltered toxic gases into the atmosphere results in acid rain. When it falls into water bodies, this acid rain can potentially change the pH, harmful to underwater species.

Furthermore, alteration of wind patterns can affect water circulation. Such changes can influence water’s movement in water bodies linked to the distribution of essential nutrients and oxygen to the marine ecosystem. Variation in the distribution of nutrients can cause displacement of aquatic species into new regions within water bodies enhancing competition between species for food.

Biologically productive regions, including wetlands, estuaries, and coral reefs, are highly affected due to climatic changes, and disturbances in their functioning can threaten their ecological stability.

Marine Turtle Extinction along Pakistan’s coastline

Inhabiting this planet since the time of dinosaurs, marine turtles are to date living on this planet. However, their seven species were declared “Endangered” long ago by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A few preventative measures should be taken immediately to stop this extinction.

coastal ecology
Seven species of marine turtles were declared “Endangered” long ago by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Although WWF-P has played a considerable role in the coastline of Sindh, where Hawks Bay and Sandspit are the main turtle nesting beaches, for protecting their habitats, they keep poachers and hunters away to ensure turtles’ wellbeing. Similarly, it should be a joint effort to understand, protect and promote the safety of marine species and preserve the marine ecosystem.

Meliorating the Coastal Ecology

First and foremost, we need to cut back on the release of toxic gases into the atmosphere (carbon dioxides, oxides of nitrogen), which contribute to global warming, damage the ozone layer, all of which end up increasing the temperature of Earth’s surface.

Secondly, constant monitoring of water bodies (sea and ocean) is required, including their role in the carbon cycle. Along with this, satellite imaging should be employed to understand the weather patterns and precipitation timings better to get an idea of upcoming climatic shifts. It will enable authorities to plan beforehand and prepare for the alternates in case of weather extremities.

Mangroves’ growth should be promoted; they are vital breeding grounds for sea creatures and are silt-checking checkpoints. While talking about silt, soil erosion needs to be managed. Plantations should be done in upstream regions and along the coast to minimize the fertile soil layer losses.

In addition to this, optimal planning, field studies, and simulation models can enhance the efficacy of the cause as they would aid in developing practical tools and management strategies to conserve coastal ecology during rapidly changing weather conditions.

Spreading awareness among people is a crucial step towards the preservation of coastal ecology. People should be taught about potential benefits and harms accompanied by prospects of the marine ecosystem and climatic change. Implementation of laws is a must. Anyone who tends to violate drafted laws should be penalized. 

“If we wipe out the fish, the oceans are going to die. If the oceans die, we die” -Paul Watson

References:

Also, Read: Respecting marine life; a conversation with Dr. Shoaib Kiani

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