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Authors

Alfred M. Duda

Document Type

Introduction

Abstract

Water covers almost three-quarters of the surface of the Earth. It nourishes our ecosystems, powers our industry, grows our food, and makes life on Earth possible. Yet the image of our tiny "Blue Planet" is deceptive. Beneath the surface, a crisis of global proportions is building. The water environment hides another world of wetland, aquifer, river and ocean ecosystems that provide trillions of dollars of benefits to humankind each year. These life support systems are now being impaired by overfishing, conversion of wetland habitat, pollution discharges from agriculture, municipal, and industrial sources, filling of rivers with mud from deforestation and land erosion, and flow reductions caused by wasteful irrigation diversions and flow alterations from dam releases. Nowhere is the degradation as evident as in the coastal zone, where forty percent of humanity lives and millions more arrive each year as climate change, desertification, and soil erosion force migrations from the interior to the peri-urban areas of mega cities. Reversing the destruction of coastal zones toward a new ethic of sustainable use may be the single greatest challenge facing humankind. We can suppress wars, prop up monetary systems, replace elements of global trade, educate the masses about HIV/AI)S, and support university education if governments really want to do so. However, the jury is still out on whether coastal degradation can be stopped and sustainable use can really be achieved. This paper provides an introduction to the following series of six research papers authored by scholars who focus on the management of North America's coastal zones. Key features of the papers are identified in order to underscore the significance of the North American experience to the rest of the world. While the case studies cover predominantly the western coasts of the continent, some contrasts are drawn with the eastern coasts as well as the North American Great Lakes. Finally, comparisons are made with similar challenges facing the rest of the world in the coastal margins of our planet's marine ecosystems.

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