Many research projects have shown that ecosystems are resilient and can be restored to an earlier natural and sustainable state when environmental stressors are reduced or eliminated. There are many success stories in conservation, and the accumulation of baseline data and monitoring helps to improve public policy of land and marine management.
When the population of any species suddenly increases or decreases it serves as an environmental indicator that something is out of balance. This may be a response to a chemical or physical change, or it may be due directly to increased harvesting or predation. In any case the changes can be detected over a long period of time and a suitable response can be developed.
The classic case is the remarkable return of the osprey. Like many other birds of prey at the top of the food web, this majestic animal became endangered as a result of widespread DDT spraying. The birds were laying eggs with thin, breakable shells or no shells at all. The offspring did not survive, and the osprey population declined to dangerously low levels. However, once DDT was phased out in the 1970’s the osprey, and many other species, began a recovery that has led to their removal from the endangered species list. Today the osprey is frequently seen fishing in the marshes and estuaries in the northeast. There are occupied nests around many wetlands throughout Cape Cod.
Remove the hazard or contaminant and its possible for the environment to recover. Find a safe and effective alternative to the problem, and a sustainable future is possible. This is the current dilemma favoring Cape Cod today where one of the biggest environmental problems is still nitrogen loading of coastal wetlands.
Excess nitrogen continues to create eutrophication problems in both freshwater and marine systems. The towns have struggled for years in dealing with the degradation of ponds, bogs, and estuaries. Algae blooms, fish and crab kills, and unsightly shorelines plague the Cape.
The solution is simply to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering ground and surface waters. That is, of course, easier said than done. With continuous population pressures and the resulting sewage, the impact of road runoff and the fallout from fossil fuel consumption, the control of nitrogen input remains a costly and complex problem. Nevertheless, this serious pollution issue cannot be ignored without additional damage to valuable resources. Efforts to stem the flow of nitrogen into coastal waters are desperately needed by each town and eventually with a regional approach.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.