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Progress in Oceanography
I was asked to present a keynote paper on the socio-economic aspects of oceanographic research in the Mediterranean Sea in the Session on From Oceanographic Science to Policy at the International Conference on Progress in Oceanography of the Mediterranean Sea, Rome November 1997. The session was unique in that it included papers from oceanographers, social scientists and economists. For this reason I have aimed this paper towards, what I consider to be, social and economic issues that may have important oceanographic outcomes and vice versa. I have attempted to express them in a manner that can be understood by economists, social scientists, policy makers and oceanographers alike.
The Mediterranean is highly populated and the greatest tourist destination in the world, both of which are predicted by UNEP to rise substantially in the future. Its blue waters, however, include some of the most extreme oligotrophic waters in the world such that it is only capable of supplying 50% of its requirements for fish. The relatively clear, pigment poor surface waters of the Mediterranean have a general increasing oligotrophy eastward with substantially lower phytoplankton, benthic and fish production in the eastern basin. The Mediterranean Sea is highly sensitive to climatic changes; it has high evaporation rates, low land runoff from few rivers and seasonal rains resulting in a deficit in its hydrological balance. This has worsened with the damming of rivers such as the Nile. Nutrient depleted Atlantic water flows into the Mediterranean through the narrow Strait of Gibraltar and exits after circulating the basin with nearly 10% more salt content. This hydrological imbalance may have far-reaching consequences in the Atlantic, producing similar climate changes in Northern Europe, to that seen during the last glaciation, and may be linked to a hydrological deficit in the Mediterranean Sea resulting from a decline in the Nile outflow. The basin-wide circulation, hot-dry and seasonal climate and low land runoff contribute to the low productivity of the sea. Nutrients are a major controlling factor in oceanic productivity and often influence the type and succession of phytoplankton. Changes in river flow and agricultural practice can influence the concentration and ratio of different nutrients flowing into the sea. For example, changing agricultural practices have resulted in higher nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into the Adriatic and lagoons of the Nile which has lead to eutrophication. The predicted population increases, especially along the southern shores, seems likely to result in eutrophication and an increased risk of pollution in other areas unless well managed. A further warning tale from the Black Sea has recently come to light where damming of rivers has resulted in depletion of silica in the seawater. (Humborg, C., Ittekkot, V., Cociasu, A., & Bodungen, B. (1997). Effect of Danube River dam on Black Sea biogeochemistry and ecosystem structure. Nature, London, 386, 385–388.) This means that silica-requiring phytoplankton do not have their essential growth nutrient and may explain the unbalanced growth of other toxic forms which do not require silica. Similarly, the Aswan dam holds back massive amounts of silica carried by the Nile from entering the eastern Mediterranean. The future of the Mediterranean ecosystem does not look rosy. If we are to learn from scientific observations, such as those in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and Adriatic, scientists, economists and policy makers, from the 18 countries bordering the Mediterranean, must interface to ensure an adequate and appropriate response.