Sunday, December 10, 2023

Human wastewater having ‘staggering’ impact on coastal ecosystems, say study authors

To better understand the impact of sewage on coastal ecosystems, Cascade Tuholske (affiliated with Columbia Climate School) and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, conducted a novel analysis in which they estimated and mapped nitrogen and pathogen inputs into the ocean from sewage for about 135,000 watersheds around the world at a resolution of 1 kilometre. The assessment employed newly available, high-resolution data on global human populations and modeled how wastewater plumes entering the ocean would overlap with different ecosystems. The analysis suggests that wastewater from human sewage introduces 6.2 teragrams of nitrogen into coastal ecosystems per year. That is about 40% of estimated inputs from agriculture. Sixty-three percent of the nitrogen is from sewage systems, 5 percent from septic systems, and 32 percent from untreated, direct input. Of the watersheds that appear to release the most nitrogen from sewage, most are located in India, Korea, and China, with the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River contributing 11% of the global total. The researchers also identified hotspots for coral reef exposure to nitrogen in China, Kenya, Haiti, India, and Yemen. Seagrass exposure hotspots were found in Ghana, Kuwait, India, Nigeria, and China. The Chang Jiang and Brahmaputra Rivers have the highest input of pathogens. Said the authors: “The sheer scale of how much wastewater is impacting coastal ecosystems worldwide is staggering. But because we map wastewater inputs to the ocean across more than 130,000 watersheds, our results identify target priority areas to help marine conservation groups and public health officials to work together and reduce the impacts of wastewater on coastal waters across the planet.”

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