Knowledge Gaps

In a 2015 review by Wear and Vega Thurber, it was made clear that impacts of wastewater pollution on coral reefs and other marine systems have been understudied. There is a general need to better tease apart the range of negative impacts on sensitive marine habitats, in order to make a case for action. This understanding will help in monitoring and quantifying effects observed over time on coastal habitats exposed to wastewater pollution. While “How much wastewater exposure is too much?” is an important question that should be answered, it is safe to say that there are some ecosystems (e.g., coral reefs) where any amount of wastewater pollution is problematic, because they require water clarity and low nutrient waters (i.e., oligotrophic conditions).

Urgent Questions:

  1. What are the functional relationships between ecological variables and wastewater pollution? Are the relationships linear or non-linear (e.g., unimodal or thresholds)?
  2. What effects do commonly used pharmaceuticals (e.g., antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy, pain relievers) have on important marine organisms?
  3. What are the priority geographies for wastewater pollution mitigation?
  4. Which geographies already have enabling conditions to initiate wastewater pollution mitigation efforts?
  5. Where is ocean wastewater pollution having the biggest negative effects on coastal habitats? On human communities?
  6. How can we best measure the impacts of wastewater pollution mitigation on coastal habitats? On nearby human communities?
  7. What is the easiest and most effective way to monitor coastal water quality to protect human and environmental health?
  8. What is the differential effect of wastewater pollution vs agricultural pollution? Are there synergistic effects when both are present and prevalent?
  9. How does climate change affect the impacts of wastewater pollution? Are wastewater hotspots more vulnerable to climate change impacts?
  10. What level of pollution is acceptable vs damaging to marine and coastal habitats?

This list will grow as the work evolves. Please share your questions with us to be included here, and shared with others.