Flow in and around coral reefs affects a number of physical, chemical and biologic processes that influence the health and sustainability of coral reef ecosystems. These range from the residence time of sediment and contaminants to nutrient uptake and larval retention and dispersal. As currents approach a coast they diverge to flow around reef structures, causing high horizontal and vertical shear. This can result in either the rapid advection of material in localized jets, or the retention of material in eddies that form in the lee of bathymetric features. The high complexity and diversity both within and between reefs, in conjunction with past technical restrictions, has limited our understanding of the nature of flow and the resulting flux of physical, chemical, and biologic material in these fragile ecosystems.
Sediment, nutrients, and other pollutants from a variety of land-based activities adversely impact many coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. and around the world. These pollutants are transported in surface water runoff, groundwater seepage, and atmospheric fallout into coastal waters, and there is compelling evidence that the sources have increased globally as a result of human-induced changes to watersheds. In Guam, and elsewhere on U.S. high islands in the Pacific and Caribbean, significant changes in the drainage basins due to agriculture, feral grazing, fires, and urbanization have in turn altered the character and volume of land-based pollution released to coral reefs. Terrigenous sediment run-off (and the associated nutrients and contaminants often absorbed to it) and deposition on coral reefs are recognized to potentially have significant impact on coral health by blocking light and inhibiting photosynthesis, directly smothering and abrading coral, and triggering increases in macro algae. Studies that combine information on watershed, surface water- and groundwater-flow, transport and fate of sediment and other pollutants in the reef environment, and their impact on reef health and ecology are essential for effective reef management.
Two of the main anthropogenic activities along west-central Guam's coastline that may impact the region's coral reef ecosystems include pollution and coastal land use/development, as discussed in the review by Porter and others (2005). The pollution threats include point-sources, such as municipal wastewater (Northern District, Hagatna, Naval Station Guam, and Agat-Santa Rita Waster Water Treatment Plants), cooling water (Tanguisson Steam and Cabras Power Plants), and numerous storm water, ballast water, and tank bottom draw outfalls; nonpoint sources include septic systems, urban runoff, illegal dumping, and groundwater discharges. Poor land-use practices include development without the use of runoff management measures, increased areal extent of impervious surfaces and decreased extent of vegetative barriers, and recreational off-road vehicle use. Furthermore, feral ungulates and illegal wildfires remove protective vegetative cover and generally result in increased soil erosion. While anthropogenic point-sources have been reduced in many areas due to better management practices, nonpoint sources have either stayed constant or increased. Between 1975 and 1999, it is estimated that Guam lost more than a quarter of its tree cover, and more than 750 wildfires each year have resulted in a greater proportion of badlands and other erosion-prone land surfaces with high erosion rates (Forestry and Soil Resources Division, 1999).
Approximately 1.8 square kilometers (km2) of Asan Bay, west-central Guam, lies within the National Park Service's (NPS) War-in-the-Pacific National Historical Park's (WAPA) Asan Unit; the bay is the sink for material coming out of the Asan watershed. Anthropogenic modifications of the watersheds adjacent to Asan Bay, which include intentionally-set wildfires, construction, and agriculture (Minton, 2005), are believed to have increased over the past 25
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Coastal Circulation and Sediment Dynamics in War-in-the-Pacific National Historical Park, Guam; measurements of waves, currents, temperature, salinity, and turbidity, June 2007-January 2008