When AAAS began its new program on Population and Sustainable Development (PSD) in late 1994, the decision was made to focus on a few select aspects of the human population and environmental relationship where a real difference could be made. A review of the current scientific literature was undertaken to determine which of the many environmental subjects relating to population were mostlacking in scientific evidence. One area which emerged as being at the top of the list was global aquatic resources, including, for example, freshwater, marine fisheries and coastal areas.
The connection between population and water, fisheries and coastal areas thus became the focus for one of a series of experts' meetings that the AAAS PSD held as part of its ongoing program to help build a strong base of policy and field-oriented scientific knowledge in areas of population and the environment.
Certainly there is no dearth of scientific research or policy initiatives in the fields of marine ecology, or human population, as independent fields of study. Yet while a significant body of knowledge exists on these subjects individually, little scientific research has been undertaken on them in relation to one another, as one discipline.
This requires our attention because the population-related pressures which affect marine resources are formidable and touch each of our lives, yet they are not well understood. They present a dilemma that both scientists and policy makers must address in order to maintain healthy, sustained aquatic systems on which all life depends.
This is becoming increasingly challenging, however, as we become more aware that nearly 2 billion people around the world lack access to clean drinking water, that 15 of the world's 17 major world fisheries are threatened or severely depleted, or that half of all coastal marshes and wetlands have been lost from pollution or overdevelopment. Through mostly anecdotal evidence we know that population factors play a significant function in these processes, although we know very little about their precise role in the equation.
That brings us to this publication and the events which led to its inception. As part of its ongoing PSD activities, the AAAS International Directorate in conjunction with the AAAS Consortium of Affiliates for International Programs (CAIP)organized a half-day symposium on "Human Population and Water, Fisheries and Coastal Areas: Science and Policy Issues" in September of 1995.
The purpose of the symposium was to lay on the table an initial presentation of issues and discussion with experts on the impact that population factors--such as rates of population growth, migration, urbanization or density, as well as fast increasing rates of resource consumption and pollution--have on aquatic resources.
Its aim was threefold, to begin to identify: what is known with some scientific certainty about population's impact on freshwater resources, fisheries, and coastal areas; the main policy and field-related issues that must be addressed with scientific research, and; the priorities for policy and field oriented scientific research on the topic. During the symposium, experts in the fields of water, fisheries and coastal areas made presentations which are based on the papers contained in this document. They each made recommendations for policy oriented research.
This was not intended to be a definitive work but rather a means to an end. With the insight gained through these papers we can begin to systematically identify some of the most important issues and approaches so as to determine what next steps can be taken. I believe this is a good start that requires follow-up in the form of more indepth examination of the population and aquatics linkages. It requires groups of experts from the social and natural sciences to work with policy makers and those who work in the field worldwide, from village to international levels, to recommend priorities for scientific research on these topics. There is much to be known on the subject, particularly as one interrelated discipline, and hopefully this document is a significant first step.
Victoria Dompka, AAAS-PSD Director