Investigators: Marina Alberti (PI), Elaine Faustman, Marcie Bidwell 

Funded by: Environmental Protection Agency

Date: 2009


Urbanization and land cover change in coastal areas are increasing the sources of anthropogenic-induced pollution, released contaminants, microbial pathogens and potential risks for human health. Increasing urbanization and human use of coastal areas are associated with increased incidence of aquatic-borne disease from contact with unhealthy natural environments, such as contaminated water, toxic algal blooms and eating contaminated marine food products. While research has shown that urbanization alters water quality through changes in land cover, increased impervious surfaces, altered hydrology and pollution, the relationships between urbanization, ocean processes, and human health are poorly understood. Although significant progress has been made in identifying and controlling point source pollution, nearshore ecosystems and human health are increasingly affected by urban regions from more evasive, but equally threatening, sources of health concerns such as bacterial contamination. Even less is known about relationships of human activities and harmful algal blooms (HABs). On a national and regional level, there is a movement to base efforts to address these effects by integrating traditionally separate disciplinary expertise. In recognition of the disciplinary differences in information, language and approaches, the issue of integrating information from environmental stressors and human activity are substantial and unresolved. Without addressing these concerns with integrated research and problem-solving, these trends are expected to continue to adversely affect water quality and the productivity of nearshore environments (Arnold and Gibbons, 1996; Vitousek et al., 1997; Sanger et al., 1999a,b; Lerberg et al., 2000). Strategies for urban growth management and shoreline management require such integrated frameworks to minimize negative impacts and prevent urban development pressure on the environment, to reduce resource use and emissions of pollutants, to prioritize regional actions and to minimize impacts on near-shore and marine ecosystems. We proposed that the reciprocal relationships between humans and ocean ecosystems were best understood by linking environmental stressors, human exposure and the associated effects on marine ecosystems and human health, and in order to do so, through a conceptual bridge across traditional disciplinary boundaries. We sought to understand the ways in which human and natural stressors in urbanizing regions affect ecological conditions and human health by modifying biophysical processes (i.e. hydrological and land processes). We conceived of a framework to serve as a tool for understanding the relationships between stressors, processes, exposure and effects as they were defined in the disciplines of landscape ecology, nearshore ecology and human health risk assessment and evaluation. Ecological and human health issues were selected in collaboration with experts on oceanographic, public and environmental health to assess the risks to ecosystems and human health generated by urbanization mechanisms and transferred by urbanization systems.