Mike’s going with the flow to protect our coasts and estuaries

Mike Elliott is Professor of Estuarine and Coastal Sciences at the University of Hull, a marine biologist with wide interests in marine and estuarine ecology, human impacts, marine and estuarine management and policy.

Mike has advised on a range of environmental matters for academia, industry, government and statutory bodies worldwide, is a member of many governmental and other advisory bodies and holds research positions at a number of universities worldwide. His work focuses on how the actions of humans can change marine and estuarine environments and how we can mitigate and manage any negative effects. Mike has published widely, co-authoring/co-editing 20 books and >300 scientific publications. He is a past president of the international Estuarine & Coastal Sciences Association (ECSA) and is an Editor-in-Chief of the international journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science.

Professor Mike Elliott

Professor of Estuarine and Coastal Sciences / Research Professor

As well as his existing work, Mike has also recently been appointed to three new prestigious positions in global marine organisations. Firstly, to the Working Group 41 of GESAMP (Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection). GESAMP includes independent scientific experts that provide advice to the United Nations on scientific aspects of marine environmental protection.

Secondly, Mike has been appointed as the Vice-Chair and to the Executive Committee of Future Earth Coasts (FEC). FEC is a Global Research Project of Future Earth, a platform for translating sustainability knowledge into action that includes a number of United Nations agencies, intergovernmental bodies and organisations such as the International Council for Science.

And finally, Mike has been invited to constitute and Chair the Oceans Commission of the International Geographical Union. This Commission aims to address important oceanographic topics and feed into the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030. This follows Mike’s involvement as an author of a chapter in the recently-published UN World Oceans Assessment II. 

As a member of the UK International Working Group for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030, Mike has recently published an article in Environmental Scientist, titled "Marine pollutants and contaminants".

 

Every human activity has a footprint which then creates pressures-and-effects-footprints and each of these needs to be determined and managed, controlled or eliminated.

Professor Mike Elliott

Professor of Estuarine and Coastal Sciences

In a recent paper Mike describes the ‘triple whammy’ threatening estuarine and coastal areas and their inhabitants, including an increase in flooding:

  • increasing urbanisation and industrialisation
  • increasing use of resources such as water, seafood and space
  • increasing susceptibility and decreasing resilience and resistance to the effects of climate change

These issues can lead to the ‘environment-tourism paradox’ whereby sandy beaches attract tourists who then require the infrastructure merely to provide ‘sea, sand and sun’, which ruins the features which drew the tourists in the first place. 

What negative impacts are humans causing in coastal areas?

Human activities on the coast, including the use of coastal resources, are increasing in intensity, and consequently sandy beaches, salt marshes, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses are either lost or degraded worldwide.

How can coastal areas be managed to mitigate against environmental damage?

As some of the adverse consequences of environmental changes come from causes outside of a coastal management area, the so-called exogenous unmanaged pressures, there is a need for holistic management. A recognition of natural changes is also important.

What are the challenges for the years ahead?

There are difficult questions to be asked and decisions to be made.  For example what coasts should we protect for nature and which are to be sacrificed for industry and urbanisation? When should or should not we protect the coast?   We have to ask which resources are to be exploited for the good of society even if in the short term, and which resources are to be left for future generations.  We know that ecological and human systems can adapt to threats either by the species changing distribution or acclimatising to new conditions or by humans moving away from hazards or finding ways to protect themselves from harm. But we should question when should or should not intervene, when must we work with nature and when should we try and stop nature.

Community Impact

Professor Elliott’s far-sighted research has led to recommendations for a global as a well as local response to these issues, to avoid creating climate migrants and climate injustice. His other recommendations include limiting development on vulnerable coasts where possible, whilst recognising the multiple factors which contribute to decision making. Mike is working with a number of bodies to help to progress what he calls “ecosystem restoration”.

In the meantime, Mike’s passion remains unabated in his work to protect our coastal and estuarine areas and their inhabitants, save our marine life and support governments and industry all over the world to make the right decisions.

Recent publications

Defeo, O. and Elliott, M. (2020). The “triple whammy” of coasts under threat – Why we should be worried! Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Wolanski, E., Day, J.W., Elliott, M., Ramachandran, R. (Eds.) (2019). Coasts and Estuaries: The Future. Elsevier, Amsterdam, ISBN 978-0-12-814003-1, pp701.

Austen, M.C., Crowe, T.P., Elliott, M., Paterson, D.M., Peck, M.A., Piraino, S., (Eds) (2018) Vectors of change in the marine environment. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 201: 1-256.