Resilient shorelines : earthquake effects on sea levels and their implications for conservation and climate change. (2020)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Thesis DisciplineWater Resource Management
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
Coastal margins are exposed to rising sea levels that present challenging circumstances for natural resource management. This study investigates a rare example of tectonic displacement caused by earthquakes that generated rapid sea-level change in a tidal lagoon system typical of many worldwide. This thesis begins by evaluating the coastal squeeze effects caused by interactions between relative sea-level (RSL) rise and the built environment of Christchurch, New Zealand, and also examples of release from similar effects in areas of uplift where land reclamations were already present. Quantification of area gains and losses demonstrated the importance of natural lagoon expansion into areas of suitable elevation under conditions of RSL rise and showed that they may be necessary to offset coastal squeeze losses experienced elsewhere. Implications of these spatial effects include the need to provide accommodation space for natural ecosystems under RSL rise, yet other land-uses are likely to be present in the areas required. Consequently, the resilience of these environments depends on facilitating transitions between human land-uses either proactively or in response to disaster events. Principles illustrated by co-seismic sea-level change are generally applicable to climate change adaptation due to the similarity of inundation effects. Furthermore, they highlight the potential role of non-climatic factors in determining the overall trajectory of change.
Chapter 2 quantifies impacts on riparian wetland ecosystems over an eight year period post- quake. Coastal wetlands were overwhelmed by RSL rise and recovery trajectories were surprisingly slow. Four risk factors were identified from the observed changes: 1) the encroachment of anthropogenic land-uses, 2) connectivity losses between areas of suitable elevation, 3) the disproportionate effect of larger wetland vulnerabilities, and 4) the need to protect new areas to address the future movement of ecosystems. Chapter 3 evaluates the unique context of shoreline management on a barrier sandspit under sea-level rise. A linked scenario approach was used to evaluate changes on the open coast and estuarine shorelines simultaneously and consider combined effects. The results show dune loss from a third of the study area using a sea-level rise scenario of 1 m over 100 years and with continuation of current land-uses. Increased exposure to natural hazards and accompanying demand for seawalls is a likely consequence unless natural alternatives can be progressed. In contrast, an example of managed retreat following earthquake-induced subsidence of the backshore presents a new opportunity to restart saltmarsh accretion processes seaward of coastal defences with the potential to reverse decades of degradation and build sea-level rise resilience. Considering both shorelines simultaneously highlights the existence of pinch-points from opposing forces that result in small land volumes above the tidal range. Societal adaptation is delicately poised between the paradigms of resisting or accommodating nature and challenged by the long perimeter and confined nature of the sandspit feature.
The remaining chapters address the potential for salinity effects caused by tidal prism changes with a focus on the conservation of īnanga (Galaxias maculatus), a culturally important fish that supports New Zealand‘s whitebait fishery. Methodologies were developed to test the hypothesis that RSL changes would drive a shift in the distribution of spawning sites with implications for their management. Chapter 4 describes a new practical methodology for quantifying the total productivity and spatiotemporal variability of spawning sites at catchment scale. Chapter 5 describes the novel use of artificial habitats as a detection tools to help overcome field survey limitations in degraded environments where egg mortality can be high. The results showed that RSL changes resulted in major shifts in spawning locations and these were associated with new patterns of vulnerability due to the continuation of pre-disturbance land-uses. Unexpected findings includes an improved understanding of the spatial relationship between salinity and spawning habitat, and identification of an invasive plant species as important spawning habitat, both with practical management implications.
To conclude, the design of legal protection mechanisms was evaluated in relation to the observed habitat shifts and with a focus on two new planning initiatives that identified relatively large protected areas (PAs) in the lower river corridors. Although the larger PAs were better able to accommodate the observed habitat shifts inefficiencies were also apparent due to spatial disparities between PA boundaries and the values requiring protection. To reduce unnecessary trade-offs with other land-uses, PAs of sufficient size to cover the observable spatiotemporal variability and coupled with adaptive capacity to address future change may offer a high effectiveness from a network of smaller PAs. The latter may be informed by both monitoring and modelling of future shifts and these are expected to include upstream habitat migration driven by the identified salinity relationships and eustatic sea-level rise.
The thesis concludes with a summary of the knowledge gained from this research that can assist the development of a new paradigm of environmental sustainability incorporating conservation and climate change adaptation. Several promising directions for future research identified within this project are also discussed.
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