Impacts of sewage outfalls on rocky shores: incorporating scale, biotic assemblage structure and variability into monitoring tools.

N. E. O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Coastal systems, such as rocky shores, are among the most heavily anthropogenically-impacted marine ecosystems and are also among the most productive in terms of ecosystem functioning. One of the greatest impacts on coastal ecosystems is nutrient enrichment from human activities such as agricultural run-off and discharge of sewage. The aim of this study was to identify and characterise potential effects of sewage discharges on the biotic diversity of rocky shores and to test current tools for assessing the ecological status of rocky shores in line with the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). A sampling strategy was designed to test for effects of sewage outfalls on rocky shore assemblages on the east coast of Ireland and to identify the scale of the putative impact. In addition, a separate sampling programme based on the Reduced algal Species List (RSL), the current WFD monitoring tool for rocky shores in Ireland and the UK, was also completed by identifying algae and measuring percent cover in replicate samples on rocky shores during Summer. There was no detectable effect of sewage outfalls on benthic taxon diversity or assemblage structure. However, spatial variability of assemblages was greater at sites proximal or adjacent to sewage outfalls compared to shores without sewage outfalls present. Results based on the RSL, show that algal assemblages were not affected by the presence of sewage outfalls, except when classed into functional groups when variability was greater at the sites with sewage outfalls. A key finding of both surveys, was the prevalence of spatial and temporal variation of assemblages. It is recommended that future metrics of ecological status are based on quantified sampling designs, incorporate changes in variability of assemblages (indicative of community stability), consider shifts in assemblage structure and include both benthic fauna and flora to assess the status of rocky shores.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-509
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Indicators
Early online date21 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


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