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OPINION article

Front. Mar. Sci., 07 July 2023
Sec. Marine Conservation and Sustainability
Volume 10 - 2023 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2023.1200979

The science we need for the beaches we want: frontiers of the flourishing Brazilian ecological sandy beach research

Guilherme Nascimento Corte1* Yasmina Shah Esmaeili2,3 Tatiana Fabricio Maria4 Leonardo Lopes Costa5 Gustavo Mattos6 Helio Herminio Checon7 Nicole Malinconico8 Paulo Cesar Paiva6 Paula Debiasi9 Tatiana Cabrini4 Victor Corrêa Seixas10 Eduardo Bulhões11 José Souto Rosa Filho12 Leonir André Colling13 Leonardo Cruz da Rosa14 Leonardo Querobim Yokoyama15 Ricardo Cardoso4 Maíra Pombo16 Patricia Luciano Mancini9 Luciana Yokoyama Xavier8 Thuareag Santos17 Marcelo Petracco18 Ligia Salgado Bechara9 Ivan Rodrigo Abrão Laurino8 Maikon Di Domenico19 Clarisse Odebrecht13 Antonio Henrique da Fontoura Klein20 Cristina de Almeida Rocha Barreira21 Abilio Soares-Gomes10 Ilana Rosental Zalmon5 Antonia Cecilia Zacagnini Amaral22 Alexander Turra8 Carlos Alberto de Moura Barboza9*
  • 1College of Science and Mathematics, University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, VI, United States
  • 2Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ecologia, Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, Brazil
  • 3Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, ME, United States
  • 4Departamento de Ecologia e Recursos Marinhos, Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 5Laboratório de Ciências Ambientais, Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense Darcy Ribeiro, Macaé, Brazil
  • 6Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 7Departamento de Biologia Animal, Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, Brazil
  • 8Instituto Oceanográfico, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
  • 9Instituto de Biodiversidade e Sustentabilidade NUPEM, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Macaé, Brazil
  • 10Departamento de Biologia Marinha, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niterói, Brazil
  • 11Instituto de Ciências da Sociedade e Desenvolvimento Regional, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil
  • 12Departamento de Oceanografia, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil
  • 13Instituto de Oceanografia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande, Rio Grande, Brazil
  • 14Departamento de Engenharia de Pesca e Aquicultura, Universidade Federal de Sergipe, São Cristóvão, Brazil
  • 15Instituto do Mar, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Santos, Brazil
  • 16Departamento de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde, Universidade Federal do Amapá, Macapá, Brazil
  • 17Departamento de Oceanografia, Universidade Federal do Espirito Santo, Vitória, Brazil
  • 18Instituto de Geociências, Universidade Federal do Pará, Belém, Brazil
  • 19Centro de Estudos do Mar, Universidade Federal do Paraná, Pontal do Sul, Brazil
  • 20Centro de Ciências Físicas e Matemáticas, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil
  • 21Instituto de Ciências do Mar, Universidade Federal do Ceará, Fortaleza, Brazil
  • 22Departamento de Biologia Animal, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, Brazil

1 Introduction

Sandy beaches are the most ubiquitous coastal ecosystem and provide essential benefits for people. However, they remain the least studied coastal environment (Lercari, 2023). To maintain the sandy beaches’ role in promoting societal welfare, researchers have highlighted critical scientific gaps, governance and regulatory issues that prevent us from developing appropriate management and conservation strategies. For instance, Amaral et al. (2016) prioritized six research areas to assess the influence of environmental changes on Brazilian sandy beaches, while Fanini et al. (2020) highlighted 21 knowledge gaps that preclude beach conservation worldwide.

Brazilian researchers have stood out in the scientific production on beaches in the last decade (Lercari, 2023). Nevertheless, this scientific knowledge is not enough if there are no changes in governance, regulations and culture of stakeholders and society. Herein, we combined the priority research areas and knowledge gaps identified by Amaral et al. (2016) and Fanini et al. (2020) into four major research topics (Table 1). Then, we presented ecological research performed on Brazilian sandy beaches over the last decade to assess the advances (or lack of) in each of these topics. Finally, we highlighted ongoing research and promising topics in sandy beach research in Brazil.

TABLE 1
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Table 1 Priority research areas highlighted by Amaral et al. (2016) and Fanini et al. (2020) combined into the four broad topics, and considerations on the advances (or lack of) in each of these areas during the previous decade.

2 Ecological research on Brazilian sandy beaches

2.1 Topic 1. Knowledge of biodiversity, ecological links, and genetic connectivity

Brazilian sandy beaches are distributed along 9000 km of coastline and encompass all beach types, from wide tide-dominated flats in the North to microtidal wave-dominated beaches in the Southeast and South (Klein and Short, 2016). During the past decade, most studies were performed in Southeast and South Brazil. However, we found a recent increase in studies in North Brazil, with investigations showing that the local sandy beach fauna is strongly influenced by riverine discharge, rainfall, morphodynamics, and human activities (Santos and Aviz, 2018; Baia and Venekey, 2019; Santos and Aviz, 2020; Baia et al., 2021; Santos et al., 2021a; Santos et al., 2021b; Santos et al., 2022; Cardoso et al., 2023; Checon et al., 2023a). Information on population attributes of typical beach species, such as Ocypode quadrata (Souza et al., 2021) and Clibanarius symmetricus (Danin et al., 2020), has just been made available for the Amazon coast.

Studies were also spatially restricted to supratidal and intertidal zones, with only a few studies sampling the subtidal or the whole across-shore gradient (e.g., Corte et al., 2019; Corte et al., 2020; Corte et al., 2022). Investigations mainly focused on macrobenthos, despite recent contributions to fish (Shah Esmaeili et al., 2022) and bird ecology (da Rosa Leal et al., 2013; Linhares et al., 2021; Rangel et al., 2022). There is incipient information on microorganisms and few studies assessed the ecology of meiofauna (reviewed in Maria et al., 2016). The number of investigations on primary producers was also higher in Southeast and South Brazil. Conversely, Brazil was probably the country with the highest number of studies on the secondary production of beach species (Petracco et al., 2013).

Few studies simultaneously investigated multiple biological components and their connectivity (e.g., Lacerda et al., 2014; Corte et al., 2017a). Costa et al. (2017) modeled a sandy beach food web including detritus, phytoplankton, macroinvertebrates, fish, and seabirds, while Pinotti et al. (2014) reviewed macrobenthic trophic relationships along subtropical sandy shores. Data using molecular markers that provide information regarding genetic connectivity and cryptic diversity remain scarce. Hurtado et al. (2016) detected high levels of cryptic diversity for the isopod Excirolana braziliensis, warning about potential biases in latitudinal gradient studies. Similarly, Seixas et al. (2021) found new species within the Diopatra cuprea complex, while Silva et al. (2017) found new species within the Capitella capitata complex. Hernáez et al. (2022) described the ghost shrimp Callichirus corruptus. Furthermore, Mattos et al. (2019) showed how contrasting dispersal potentials can affect crustacean genetic structure and connectivity along the entire Brazilian coast.

2.2 Topic 2. Standardized methods, long-term data, and findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable principles

Despite efforts to produce monitoring protocols (e.g., ReBentos and MBON Pole-to-Pole), long-term ecological studies on Brazilian sandy beaches remain scarce. In one of the few examples, Costa et al. (2022b) compiled data from 2013–2021 and showed that the abundance of the ghost crab Ocypode quadrata increased during beach closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The only current long-term (> 20 years) ecological investigation is being performed at Cassino Beach, South Brazil (Odebrecht et al., 2017). FAIR principles are still hardly applied to sandy beach research in Brazil, and most raw data remain restricted even after the publication of scientific papers.

2.3 Topic 3. Ecological impacts related to climate change and anthropic activities

Brazilian beaches have been jeopardized by oil spills (Marques et al., 2017; Sills et al., 2020; da Rosa, 2022), sewage discharges (Roth et al., 2016), marine litter (Neves et al., 2022), overfishing (Bender et al., 2014), chemical contamination (Cabrini et al., 2017; Cabrini et al., 2018; Ragagnin and Turra, 2022), trampling and vehicles traffic (Bom and Colling, 2020; Santos et al., 2021b; Bom and Colling, 2022; Santos et al., 2022) and coastal urbanization (Rêgo et al., 2018; Corte et al., 2022; Laurino et al., 2022; Shah Esmaeili et al., 2022). Furthermore, researchers have shown that urbanization may increase parasitism in invertebrates and fishes (Corte, 2015; Shah Esmaeili et al., 2021a). Investigation of plastic pollution has advanced significantly (Costa et al., 2022b; Mengatto and Nagai, 2022), and studies suggested that assessments should consider the physical variables that regulate beach dynamics such as wave action and tidal cycles (Balthazar-Silva et al., 2020; Tsukada et al., 2021).

Investigations on the effects of climate change focused mainly on high-intensity storms (Machado et al., 2016; Turra et al., 2016; Corte et al., 2017b; Corte et al., 2018; Oliveira and Yokoyama, 2021). Experiments to assess anthropogenic and climate change impacts are still scarce (but see Laurino et al., 2020; Izar et al., 2022; Laurino et al., 2022, Laurino et al., 2023; Laurino and Turra, 2021). Nevertheless, Brazilian researchers advanced in the use of biodiversity as tools for environmental monitoring and assessment (Pombo and Turra, 2013; Cardoso et al., 2016; Gorman et al., 2017; Pombo and Turra, 2017; Checon et al., 2018a; Checon et al., 2018b; Costa and Zalmon, 2019; Costa et al., 2020b; Barboza et al., 2021; Costa and Zalmon, 2021; Costa et al., 2022a; Checon et al., 2023b; Checon et al., 2023c).

2.4 Topic 4. Sandy beach as socio-ecological systems and management strategies based on the ecosystem

While sandy beaches ecosystems provide regulating, cultural, supporting, and provisioning services (Harris and Defeo, 2022), studies in Brazil were mostly focused on cultural services such as tourism activities (Checon et al., 2022b). Accordingly, Brazilian sandy beach management remains overwhelmingly focused on social-economic aspects such as engineering interventions to mitigate erosion (e.g., armoring and nourishment), cleaning, and tourism support (e.g., Simões et al., 2022, Borges et al., 2023). To improve management practices, Xavier et al. (2020) and Corrêa et al. (2021) highlighted the need for a more holistic understanding of the beach environment, including the diversity and interactions of ecological and social components. Moreover, Araújo et al. (2021) adapted the conceptual model DPSWIR (Driving Force-Pressure-State-Impact-Well-being-Response) to assess the effects of coastal ecosystem services loss on human well-being.

Efforts have been also made to propose an Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) approach for Brazilian sandy beaches (e.g. Bombana et al., 2022), but empirical and theoretical research on sandy beach management is still incipient (Xavier et al., 2020; Corrêa et al., 2021). Most studies aim to understand the anthropogenic drivers associated with social and ecological deterioration rather than assess the performance of management interventions (Xavier et al., 2020). Corrêa et al. (2020) identified two barriers to EBM implementation at the local level: overcoming current undesirable governance structures and fitting governance to multilevel ecosystem dynamics.

Nature-based solutions (NbS) assume that natural processes can solve management failures and have been proposed to mitigate the degradation and vulnerability of coastal environments to erosion (Slinger et al., 2021). Manes et al. (2023) estimated that nature-based shoreline protection can reduce the risks of climate-induced hazards to the Brazilian coastline by 2.5 times. Costa et al. (2020a) suggested the addition of natural obstructions in the supralittoral and reforestation to prevent ghost crabs and turtle hatchlings from being killed by vehicles on the sand.

3 Future directions

Sandy beach ecological studies performed in Brazil increased over the past decade; however, these advances do not ensure the preservation of our beaches. While ecological knowledge is crucial to preserve our beaches, it alone is insufficient since successful management is largely contingent upon changes in the environment, governance, and new technologies.

Management and governance have a key role in maintaining sustainable ecosystem services and their benefits (Harris and Defeo, 2022), and it is essential to use scientific knowledge to subsidize the decision-making process by developing evidence-based management strategies to reduce the harmful consequences of anthropic activities and mitigate climate change effects.

Collaborative and multidisciplinary networks are crucial for ensuring that the knowledge produced leads to effective changes in governance and cultural aspects towards beach ecosystems conservation. EBM should be fostered, integrating both social and natural systems in a transdisciplinary way, considering the temporal and spatial scales of processes, the benefits from beaches to people, and attempting to build socioecological models that support decision-making (Gonçalves et al., 2020; Corrêa et al., 2021; Xavier et al., 2022).

Incorporating ecological principles into engineering can improve management practices and foster the development of mechanisms to address complex challenges threatening beach conservation, such as the synergic effects of coastal urbanization and climate change. Emerging technologies such as eDNA, Remote Sensing (RS), and unmanned aerial vehicles for imaging are promising tools for evaluating sandy beach biodiversity and ecological processes, which can reduce the costs and effort associated with biodiversity assessment and monitoring (Barboza et al., 2021; Shah Esmaeili et al., 2021a; Checon et al., 2022a).

Long-term data are necessary to comprehend how climate change is affecting sandy beach ecosystems and may compromise their goods and services, as well as to understand the population dynamics of exploited species, changes in species distribution, storage and turnover of organic carbon, and impacts of human activities and harmful algal blooms (Fanini et al., 2020). Expanding knowledge about larval dispersion, settlement, and resilience to environmental changes is also needed to understand the dynamics of beach biodiversity. We have limited information on the diversity and ecological role of microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites) and meiofaunal species, and beaches from North and Northeast Brazil remain largely understudied. Similarly, sublittoral communities and the backshore remain overlooked. Stable isotope analysis may help elucidate the connection between sandy beaches and adjacent habitats. Studies on the whole Littoral Active Zone are essential to identifying key physical and ecological processes and their boundary areas (Fanini et al., 2020). It is also urgent to conduct studies on the effects of heat waves on beach species and assemblages.

We strongly recommend that data collation/curation follow the FAIR principles that lead to legislation focused on advances in EBM. For example, data should be published in open-access databases (e.g., GBIF and OBIS) and made available using a CC-BY license.

Importantly, the effort for knowledge production should consider societal demands, and assist managers in providing assertive and applicable responses to such a complex system in a changing environment. In addition, an effort should be made to congregate the science we are doing and to implement the science we need for the beaches we want (e.g., ABC, 2021), promoting a better dialogue with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UNGA, 2015) and the outcomes and challenges of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (IOC/UNESCO, 2020; Claudet et al., 2020).

Author contributions

GC and CaB led the analyses and writing of the manuscript. YSE, TM, LCos, GM, HC, NM, PP, PD, TC, VS, EB, JR, LCol, LR, LY, RC, MPo, PM, LX, TS, MPe, LB, IL, MD, CO, AK, CrB, AS-G, IZ, AA, and AT contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Funding

This work was supported by Fundaç ão Carlos Chagas Filho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ) with grant number E-26/210.571/2021, and E-26/201.382/2021, Maré-Limpa: Pesquisas e Divulgação para redução do lixo no oceano” under the Grant TAC ALSUB Project contract 265/2022. “The TAC ALSUB Project is an environmental offset measure established through a Consent Decree/Conduct Adjustment Agreement between the Federal Public Ministry and the company PETROBRAS (process 1.30.001.000486/2019-08)”. YSE is supported by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) (2018/0955-5), TFM is supported by Research Department of UNIRIO, LLC is supported by FAPERJ (E 26/200.620/2022 and E-26/210.384/2022), PCP is supported by FAPERJ (E-26/200.375/2023) and Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) (306788/2021-7), TC is supported by FAPERJ (E-26/210.527/2019 and E-26/211.433/2021), JSRF is supported by CNPq (303609/2022-2), PLM is supported by CAPES (code 001, PNPD scholarship), LYX is supported by USPSusten post-doctoral program, AS-G is supported by CNPq (301475/ 2017-2), ACZA is supported by CNPq (301551/2019-7), AT is supported by FAPESP (2018/19776-2), Fundação Grupo Boticário (1133_20182), and CNPq (310553/2019-9), and CAMB is supported by FAPERJ (E-26/201.382/2021).

Acknowledgments

We thank Fundação Carlos Chagas Filho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro for supporting the Ecology and Conservation of Sandy Beaches from Rio de Janeiro Symposium within the scope of the Programa de Apoio à Organização de Eventos Científicos, Tecnológicos e de Inovação no Estado do Rio de Janeiro – 2021 (E-26/210.571/2021). We thank Diego Lercari for his valuable comments that helped improve the manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

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Keywords: anthropocene, biodiversity, socio-ecological systems, conservation, management, ecosystem-based management

Citation: Corte GN, Shah Esmaeili Y, Maria TF, Costa LL, Mattos G, Checon HH, Malinconico N, Paiva PC, Debiasi P, Cabrini T, Seixas VC, Bulhões E, Rosa Filho JS, Colling LA, da Rosa LC, Yokoyama LQ, Cardoso R, Pombo M, Mancini PL, Xavier LY, Santos T, Petracco M, Bechara LS, Laurino IRA, Di Domenico M, Odebrecht C, Klein AHdF, Rocha-Barreira CdA, Soares-Gomes A, Zalmon IR, Amaral ACZ, Turra A and Barboza CAdM (2023) The science we need for the beaches we want: frontiers of the flourishing Brazilian ecological sandy beach research. Front. Mar. Sci. 10:1200979. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2023.1200979

Received: 05 April 2023; Accepted: 13 June 2023;
Published: 07 July 2023.

Edited by:

Salvatore Siciliano, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), Brazil

Reviewed by:

Diego Lercari, Faculty of Science, Marine Science Unit, Universidad de la República, Uruguay

Copyright © 2023 Corte, Shah Esmaeili, Maria, Costa, Mattos, Checon, Malinconico, Paiva, Debiasi, Cabrini, Seixas, Bulhões, Rosa Filho, Colling, da Rosa, Yokoyama, Cardoso, Pombo, Mancini, Xavier, Santos, Petracco, Bechara, Laurino, Di Domenico, Odebrecht, Klein, Rocha-Barreira, Soares-Gomes, Zalmon, Amaral, Turra and Barboza. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Guilherme Nascimento Corte, guilhermecorte@yahoo.com.br; Carlos Alberto de Moura Barboza, carlosambarboza@gmail.com

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