Issue: Direct pressure of human activities on coasts and oceans - Direct pressure of coastal activities (other than shipping and fishing)

This is an issue under the Coasts and oceans theme of the Data Reporting System.

Why we need to know about this issue

Where coastal land or waters are altered for human activities the habitat of other resident species (terrestrial, freshwater and marine) is also altered. Some of these habitat changes may completely remove resident species. Others may disadvantage some species and benefit others, altering the ecosystems themselves.

Additionally, a wide range of substances, including heavy metals, organic compounds and particles from industry and coastal mining, sewerage and garbage and diffuse pollution from human settlements, ammunition from Defence force facilities, and sediments, nutrients, pesticides and even just excess freshwater from agricultural land use are discharged into coastal waters and coastal freshwater systems where they can place pressure on marine, coastal terrestrial and coastal freshwater species and ecosystems.

Pressures from coastal pollution may affect the quality of estuarine and coastal waters and ultimately the condition of marine species. Run-off of pollutants can be directly toxic. Run-off of sediments can affect the turbidity of coastal waters and some sediments may carry materials that are toxic to marine species. Run-off of nutrients can lead to oxygen depletion and algal blooms. Changes in salinity of run-off can place pressure of ecosystems, by benefiting or disadvantaging particular species

In addition to pollution of coastal and marine waters by toxic substances, it is possible that noise and visual pollution may be having an adverse effect on some marine species.


  • CO-27 Number, frequency, extent and volume of oil spills from all sources 
    Oil spills from coastal activities have direct and lethal impacts on marine biodiversity, suffocating and poisoning fish and invertebrates and rendering seabirds flightless (causing them to drown, starve or be taken by predators). Number, frequency, extent and volume of spills provides an indication of the intensity of this pressure.
  • CO-28 Quantity of discharges of different substances from humans activities to coastal and marine waters 
    Substances vary enormously in terms of what quantities are dangerous to human health and the environment. Therefore a breakdown, as far as possible, of quantities of all substances discharged from coastal facilities either directly into coastal waters, or into coastal freshwater systems, is required to give an indication of the scale of this pressure.
  • CO-29 Change in area of coastal potential acid sulphate soils under development for human use 
    Acid water and heavy metal pollution, caused by the disturbance of acid sulphate soils, is a major environmental issue for the management of coastal regions around Australia. The disturbance and exposure of acid sulphate soils by earth moving practices and fluctuations in groundwater levels can cause the oxidation of pyrite which produces sulphuric acid. The acid can have both direct impacts on the receiving environment and indirect impacts as the acid in mobilises toxic metals.
    Elevated levels of mobilised trace heavy metals in soil and water can be toxic to aquatic life if released into the drainage, and to marine life if released into seawater. Land areas impacted by exposed acid sulphate soils have poor fertility, high vegetation dieback and are prone to surface scalding and erosion.
    Changes in area of potential acid sulphate soils encroached by human development is indicative of the length of coastline at risk of acid sulphate contamination.
  • CO-30 Length and area of coastal and estuarine foreshore altered for human purposes 
    Urban development involves the total removal of biodiversity habitat for a wide range of species. It also fragments the habitat which remains. In the case of the biodiversity rich coastal regions of Australia, both the removal and the fragmentation of habitat will affect a very wide range of species and ecosystems. While the many impacts on diverse species and complex ecosystems resulting from changes to coastal land for human activities are difficult to measure, the extent of land under direct pressure from these changes is measurable and changes in that extent give an indication of the rate at which the pressure is increasing.
  • CO-32 Number of injuries to marine animals from marine debris 
    Coastal activities produce materials which, if end up in the ocean, can impact on marine life. Number of injuries reported that are attributable to this cause are one indicator of the intensity of this pressure.
  • CO-44 Marine chlorophyll concentration 
    Excesses of some marine plants, such as algae, are indicative of excess nutrients in the water. Algal blooms may in turn place pressure on other marine life by blocking off sunlight from the surface and preventing oxygenation through photosynthesis. Bacteria breeding in dead algae can also deoxygenate water. In the absence of continental data on actual occurrences of algal blooms, continental information on ocean colour in areas close to coastal areas of intensive human activity could serve as an indicator of areas suffering or at risk of algal blooms
  • CO-46 Comparative water quality of coastal lakes and lagoons (water quality gradient from north to south) 
    Comparative water quality of coastal lakes and lagoons, especially along the gradient from north to south, is indicative of the cumulative pressure of human settlements on these systems.
  • CO-53 Evidence or examples of noise or visual disturbance of marine species by human activities 
    Many marine organisms rely on sound and visual signals for their survival. It is reasonable to assume that noise and visual signals from coastal activities may be disruptive to these signals and potentially uncomfortable, even lethal to some marine organisms.
    No indicator has been developed for measuring or assessing the extent of this pressure or its actual impact on marine organisms. Some examples of impacts of sound or visual pollution from coastal activities on marine animals may be available.
  • CO-60 Sea salinity 
    Localised changes in salinity may occur as a result of runoff of pollution or significant increases in freshwater outfalls from the land. These changes may have localised ecological impacts, favouring some species that are present in coastal ecosystems relative to others.
  • CO-65 Correlation between various human activities and introduction of coastal and marine species 
    Species can be introduced to an ecosystem from various sources, including from fishing activities, on exploration rigs and from coastal activity. However, the principal means of introduction is believed to be from ballast water and on the hulls of ships.
    While number of introduced species is not indicative of anything in its own right, some introduced species do have the capacity to impact on resident species and ecosystems, especially in combination with other anthropogenic factors. However, the correlation between intensity of shipping activity (or other marine uses) and intensity of species introduction may shed light on the relative importance of the various ways in which species are introduced to new waters.
  • IW-12 Catchment nitrogen and phosphorus load 
    Agricultural land use disturbs soils and can change loads of nitrogen and phosphorus entering inland waters and ending up in coastal waters where in can place pressure aquatic and estuarine species as well as on other coastal species that rely on the water source. Quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus concentrating in surface water catchments are a direct measure of this pressure.
  • HS-05 Total population and distribution 
    Australia’s population is concentrated in the coastal regions. Population increases can translate directly and indirectly into pressure on coastal and marine biodiversity.
  • IW-19 Exceedance of total nitrogen and phosphorus water quality triggers 
    Agricultural land use disturbs soils and can change loads of nitrogen and phosphorus entering inland waters and ending up in coastal waters where in can place pressure aquatic and estuarine species as well as on other coastal species that rely on the water source. Quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus concentrating in surface water catchments are a direct measure of this pressure.
  • LD-40 Current research into pressures and contributions of naturalised introduced species 
    Other indicators for pressures of coastal activities do not inform on whether naturalised populations are exerting pressure on native species or ecosystems. Current research into this issue, even in the absence of national data, may shed some light on these effects.
  • BD-09 The change in extent of selected nationally significant invasive species 
    Species can be introduced to an ecosystem by various types of coastal activities. While it is difficult, on the basis of any available data, to establish whether and how invasive any species might be, changes in distribution and population of one species may be an indicator of more profound ecological changes. Additionally, where there is a concern that a particular species is behaving invasively, changes in its distribution may signal an increase in area at risk, either from the species itself, or from the environmental modifications that are favouring its expansion.
  • BD-10 Examples of native species whose populations have declined where various invasive species have established resident populations 
    Changes in population and/or distribution of either native or introduced marine species may be indicative of more general changes in the condition of coastal and marine systems, whether the cause of the change is habitat modification, species introduction, or any other pressure. Compiling data on such correlations may also enable the development of studies which control for other pressures and thus provide insight into the actual impact of species introduced by coastal activities on the condition of coasts and oceans.

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