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Excessive fishing prompted coastal ecosystems to collapse, but wise management now will help

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL Looking back, before men began harvesting them in increasingly large and disruptive amounts, the worldwide abundance of sea creatures almost staggers the imagination.

In the Caribbean, instead of millions of tourists, tens of millions of sea turtles made their homes there. English seafarers in the 1800s reported herds of dugongs -- aquatic mammals resembling walruses -- composed of untold thousands of adults and juveniles extending four miles along the Australian coast. Reefs of living oysters once so flourished in the Chesapeake Bay, they could filter virtually all the bays water in three days.

Whales, manatees, sea cows, monk seals, crocodiles, codfish, jewfish, swordfish, sharks, rays and other species are now functionally or entirely extinct in most coastal environments. As a result, "fantastic" coasts around the world have changed radically -- and for the worse, scientists say.

Evidence of what humans have lost and what might be done to restore at least part of the oceans bounty is the subject of a ground-breaking paper appearing in the July 27 issue of the journal Science. Among 18 authors from the United States and Australia, are Drs. Jeremy B.C. Jackson, Ritter Memorial professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Charles H. Peterson, Alumni Distinguished professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"At Jeremys suggestion, we brought together for the first time historians, paleontologists, archaeologists, biologists and others to create a view into the past about marine systems that modern ecologists dont usually appreciate," Peterson said. "We looked closely at tropical coral reefs, kelp forests, rocky sub-tidal shores along warm and cold coastlines and estuaries worldwide using a large variety of records."

Among those were old accounts by sea captains, who sometimes were fine naturalists, Peterson said, and scientists commissioned by royalty. Even
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Contact: David Williamson
David_Williamson@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
26-Jul-2001


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