Coastal Ecosystem Ecology and Conservation

Improving predictions of how use, protection and environmental change affect coastal ecosystems.

A recent needs assessment identified coastal ecosystem loss, endangered species loss, water quality and pollution issues, shoreline erosion and sea-level change as leading coastal management challenges. All of these needs emphasize the importance of our coastal natural ecosystems and their functions (e.g., wildlife habitat, water filtration, erosion control). We need an improved understanding of how these ecosystems are likely to change in the future so that we can identify likely threats and develop comprehensive coastal adaptation strategies. This understanding can come about from a look at past changes and by isolating mechanisms of change.

1. Building Climate Resilience of Urban Waters, Ecosystems, and Communities. 

Project team: L. Goodwin, J. Barkan- Ocean Discovery Institute; E. Bowlby- San Diego Canyonlands; T.S. Talley, N. Venuti, C. Adams- CASG; Funding: CA Coastal Conservancy Prop 1 Funds

Climate change preparation should include water quality improvement and conservation measures, particularly in urban ecosystems. The project site, Manzanita Canyon, is located in the heart of a “disadvantaged” community where action is needed to increase resiliency of both the urban community and the ecosystem. This project integrates urban native greening, invasive plant and trash removal, and the engagement of the community and local decision makers in order to sustainably improve water quality, and the climate resilience of urban ecosystems and an underserved community. 

2. Seafood security for the 21st century and beyond

3. Historical ecology of estuarine and coastal communities

4. Plastics in wetland sediments and fish at the mouth of an urban watershed. 

Project completed, manuscript in prep.

Project team: R. Whalen- U. of San Diego; A. Malunes- Mater Dei High School; T.S. Talley, N. Venuti- CASG.

The extent to which small plastics and constituent compounds are entering coastal foodwebs is only beginning to be realized. Using wetland fish and sediment collected during June 2015 from urbanized Chollas Creek, San Diego, California, we tested the hypotheses that small plastic composition in sediments would be reflected in fish guts (non-selective consumption), and that semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) would be present in all fish. Sediments contained about 10,000 microplastic pieces per m2, consisting mostly (90%) of fibers, and hard and soft pieces. Nearly 25% of fish contained plastics, but prevalence varied with size, sex and between species. Of the 39 types of sediment plastics, fish preferred 10 types that often resembled prey items, including filamentous algae, nematodes and fish eggs. Several phthalates were found in fish, with highest concentrations of sediment-associated compounds. We found that a species’ natural history may influence contamination levels with consequences, and lessons, for all consumers.


Co-principal Investigators

  • Nina Venuti
    University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography