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EdinburghX: Nitrogen Pollution - Threats to Tropical Coral Coasts

This course explores how nitrogen interacts with the marine environment and the associated threats of nitrogen pollution caused by human activity, using tropical coral reefs and seagrasses as model ecosystems.

5 weeks
3–5 hours per week
Progress at your own speed
Optional upgrade available

There is one session available:

After a course session ends, it will be archivedOpens in a new tab.
Starts Apr 15

About this course

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Nitrogen pollution is a critically important global challenge. For tropical ecosystems such as coral reefs and seagrasses (CRAS), this is a particularly pertinent issue, as they are amongst the most economically valuable and biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, but are steadily declining in areal extent and health. Eutrophication (excessive nutrients causing water pollution) in these environments can not only interfere with the health and diversity of vegetation, fish and other aquatic organisms; inhibit recruitment of juvenile corals but is also thought to increase the susceptibility of corals to heat-induced bleaching events.

As urbanisation, coastal development and intensification of agricultural production in the South Asia region continues, monitoring coastal waters for nitrogen pollution is critical to understanding its potential impacts. Highlighting the human environmental impact on components of groundwater seepage, coastal runoff and atmospheric deposition is paramount to informing planning for catchment management and conservation measures.

This innovative course, regardless of your background, will teach core concepts about the value of tropical marine ecosystems; nitrogen in the marine environment; and drivers of nitrogen pollution. Using tropical coral reef and seagrass meadows as case study ecosystems, it will introduce the key concept and drivers of eutrophication and identify key anthropogenic nitrogen inputs into tropical CRAS settings. You will be provided with real-life, scenario-based examples of using the natural world as a living lab and an experimental platform to research and test key assumptions about impacts of nitrogen pollution on these ecosystems.

Finally, you will learn about some potential solutions to improve understanding of challenges associated with nitrogen pollution, and ways to minimize damage to ecosystem health. We will explore a suite of strategies from locally based community management to internationally informed policies on nitrogen,

The course will use the Maldives as a lens in which to look at these issues, yet the core principles are relevant to contexts across South Asia and beyond. The course will use a mix of short topical lectures by academics at the University of Edinburgh and members of a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), Maldives Resilient Reefs working on the issue directly in the Maldives. It will be highlighted through on-site videos of research being conducted in the field as part of the South Asian Nitrogen Hub.

At a glance

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English
  • Associated skills:Groundwater, Legal Depositions, Management, Resilience, Coastal Development Hazards, Soil Mechanics, Community Management, Water Pollution, Ecosystem Science, Innovation, Research, Marine Ecology, Agricultural Productivity, Planning

What you'll learn

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  • Discover the value and importance of coral reefs and seagrasses
  • Learn what nitrogen is and its role in tropical marine ecosystems
  • Find out how nitrogen pollution threatens these ecosystems and what human activities contribute to this global challenge
  • Recognise the value of scientific experimental approaches to informing solutions
  • Identify practical solutions to mitigate the impacts of nitrogen pollution in the marine environment

Week 1: Introduction to nitrogen, coral reefs, and associated ecosystems

Introduction to tropical coastal ecosystems and their ecosystem services; the main threats facing them, and the role nitrogen pollution plays within this.

Week 2: Coral reefs

Basic introduction to coral reefs; their relationship to nitrogen; and a case study example demonstrating the impacts of excessive nitrogen pollution.

Week 3: Seagrass meadows

Basic introduction to seagrass meadows; their relationship to nitrogen; and a case study example demonstrating the impacts of excessive nitrogen pollution.

Week 4: Research to understand (Maldivian context)

Using real-world experiments from the Maldives, we explore ways in which humans can use the natural environment as a ‘living laboratory’ to better understand the impacts of excessive nitrogen on coral reefs and seagrasses.

Week 5: Solutions (Maldivian context)

Understand how monitoring is key to management success; examples of how local solutions as well as national and international policies can improve issues around nitrogen practices and awareness.

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