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Recovery or decline of the Black Sea: A societal choice revealed by socio-ecological modeling.

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Langmead, O. , McQuatters-Gollop, A. , Mee, L. D. , Friedrich, J. , Gilbert, A. J. , Gomoiu, M. T. , Jackson, E. L. , Knudsen, S. , Minicheva, G. and Todorova, V. (2009): Recovery or decline of the Black Sea: A societal choice revealed by socio-ecological modeling. , Ecological Modelling., 220 (21), pp. 2927-2939 . doi: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2008.09.011
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Abstract:

During recent decades anthropogenic activities have dramatically impacted the Black Sea ecosystem. High levels of riverine nutrient input during the 1970s and 1980s caused eutrophic conditions including intense algal blooms resulting in hypoxia and the subsequent collapse of benthic habitats on the northwestern shelf. Intense fishing pressure also depleted stocks of many apex predators, contributing to an increase in planktivorous fish that are now the focus of fishing efforts. Additionally, the Black Sea's ecosystem changed even further with the introduction of exotic species. Economic collapse of the surrounding socialist republics in the early 1990s resulted in decreased nutrient loading which has allowed the Black Sea ecosystem to start to recover, but under rapidly changing economic and political conditions, future recovery is uncertain. In this study we use a multidisciplinary approach to integrate information from socio-economic and ecological systems to model the effects of future development scenarios on the marine environment of the northwestern Black Sea shelf. The Driver–Pressure–State-Impact-Response framework was used to construct conceptual models, explicitly mapping impacts of socio-economic Drivers on the marine ecosystem. Bayesian belief networks (BBNs), a stochastic modelling technique, were used to quantify these causal relationships, operationalise models and assess the effects of alternative development paths on the Black Sea ecosystem. BBNs use probabilistic dependencies as a common metric, allowing the integration of quantitative and qualitative information. Under the Baseline Scenario, recovery of the Black Sea appears tenuous as the exploitation of environmental resources (agriculture, fishing and shipping) increases with continued economic development of post-Soviet countries. This results in the loss of wetlands through drainage and reclamation. Water transparency decreases as phytoplankton bloom and this deterioration in water quality leads to the degradation of coastal plant communities (Cystoseira, seagrass) and also Phyllophora habitat on the shelf. Decomposition of benthic plants results in hypoxia killing flora and fauna associated with these habitats. Ecological pressure from these factors along with constant levels of fishing activity results in target stocks remaining depleted. Of the four Alternative Scenarios, two show improvements on the Baseline ecosystem condition, with improved waste water treatment and reduced fishing pressure, while the other two show a worsening, due to increased natural resource exploitation leading to rapid reversal of any recent ecosystem recovery. From this we conclude that variations in economic policy have significant consequences for the health of the Black Sea, and ecosystem recovery is directly linked to social–economic choices.

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