Marine coastal areas host highly productive ecosystems that are threatened by the high rate of urban development in these areas and associated stressors affecting ecosystem processes. An integrated and effective assessment of the state of marine coastal ecosystems must rely on the knowledge of all human pressures at different levels of biological organization. This includes microbiomes, which have been re-evaluated as a ‘bank of hidden biodiversity’, with fundamental, albeit still unknown, functional potential capable of opening up new frontiers in scientific knowledge. Previous EuroMarine foresight workshops STRANGE and HoloMarine provided important inputs to the discussion on status, trends and conservation options of marine coastal biodiversity under global change scenarios.
Following in their footsteps, the EuroMarine-funded foresight workshop ECOLight plans to further contribute to the issue by focussing on an anthropogenic disturbance whose impacts are only just starting to be realised. The large concentration of human population along the coasts is easily discernible from nocturnal satellite images, which have drawn scientific attention toward an additional source of anthropogenic disturbance: artificial light at night (ALAN). ALAN has recently been linked to circadian disruption, loss of orientation, changes in reproductive timing, plant phenology and trophic pressure in terrestrial and aquatic habitats. These impacts are only predicted to worsen.
Although ALAN has become recognised as a genuine disruptor, the understanding of its effect on the structure and functioning of whole ecosystems remains very limited. The empirical assessment of effects of night light pollution on marine coastal environments is still in its infancy. Furthermore, knowledge of potential interactions and the assessment of cumulative impact with other stressors in coastal areas remains limited. The effects of ALAN are not limited to macrobiota; a recent work highlighted how ALAN can affect the microbial compartment in coastal habitats, where biofilms play also a key role in primary production and degradation and recycling of organic matter. By influencing microbiomes, ALAN might affect not only biofilm composition and functioning but also the complex interactions between macro- and micro-organisms (trophic and spatial), including those more related to the “holobiont” functioning.
ECOLight will take place with the understanding that the management of potential and actual impacts of ALAN must include actions focused on their mitigation. These actions add new societal challenges to those that have arisen from other coastal human-related stressors. This is mostly due to the connectivity between nocturnal illumination and a variety of human activities and needs (e.g. life at home, work, safety, etc.). More so than other disturbances, the protection of marine systems from ALAN effects must include large spatial scale actions aimed at increasing the awareness of threats, such as global scale monitoring and citizen science programs, to sustain a responsible governance of public and private lighting.
This workshop will collect and analyse current knowledge and gaps of information on the effects of light pollution on coastal assemblages, by focusing on three themes highly related to current frontiers in ocean research:
- The potential cumulative impacts of light pollution and other major disturbances acting in coastal areas.
- The effects of light pollution on microbiomes and consequences for macro-organisms and ecosystem functioning.
- The development and application of observation techniques to monitor coastal light pollution and possibility to identify early and ‘easy to use’ indicators of its biological and ecological effects.
The outcomes of each theme will also be discussed in the context of identifying possible effective and early indicators of potential or actual impacts of ALAN that could rely on easily obtainable ecological/biological data over large scales, collected by scientists and/or by non-experts. Ultimately, the organisers expect to:
- Produce a position paper.
- Publish a document prompting a focussed call on marine light pollution.
- Promote a large-scale network on coastal ALAN.
ECOLight will contribute to a growing body of knowledge necessary for the improved planning and management of coastal areas, for the benefit of both the local ecosystems and the people living there. The workshop will also help expand this still-emergent field of study by bringing further attention to its importance and the ramifications of ignoring it.