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Variability within nearshore ecosystems of the Gulf of Alaska

December 3, 2015

Nearshore marine habitats, which represent the interface among air, land and sea, form a critical component of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) ecosystem. As an interface, the nearshore facilitates transfer of water, nutrients and biota between terrestrial and oceanic systems, creating zones of high productivity. The nearshore provides a variety of ecosystem services, including (1) nursery grounds for a wide variety of marine invertebrates and fishes (e.g., crabs, salmon, and herring), (2) nesting and pupping habitats for many pelagic marine predators (e.g., sea bird nesting colonies and pinniped rookeries), (3) important feeding habitats for high trophic level pelagic predators (e.g., killer whales), (4) habitat for resident nearshore species (including sea otters, harbor seals, shorebirds, sea ducks, nearshore fishes, and marine invertebrates), many of which are important sources of commercial and subsistence harvests, and (5) recreational, commercial and subsistence opportunities for human populations (Figure 1-1). The canopy forming kelps and eel grass beds found in the nearshore provide primary production and structure to nursery habitats, and also can dissipate wave energy thus reducing coastal erosion, and serve as a carbon “sink” capable of storing substantial amounts of atmospheric CO2 (Wilmers et al. 2012).