SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 88

that number into perspective, about 6 billion people inhabited the entire planet in the year 2000. 6 billion is a lot of people to feed, transport, house, clean up after, provide electricity for, keep safe, and stand in line for coffee with.

On top of the sheer number of megacities in the world, a strong majority of megacities are in close proximity to the ocean. These coastal megacities face numerous challenges in the face of such rapid population growth including: increasing cost-of-living, an increased demand for services such as public schools and health care, managing air quality, emergency preparedness, climate change, urban heating, sea level rise, energy production, sustainable food production, and others. Urban planners and policymakers have a lot to think about if a proactive approach is taken to maintain and improve the quality of life of city residents. Add in aging infrastructures to the need for proactive urban planning, and the opportunity for political gridlock presents itself.

To start with, planting native trees and plants to increase green space in a city both improves air quality and reduces the amount of heat retained by the artificial materials common to a city such as asphalt that creates what is called the heat island effect. As the average temperatures inch higher and higher, smog and the reduced air quality because of it becomes worse. Since trees metabolize carbon dioxide and release oxygen as waste, two problems can be solved with more trees. Urban planners and private building owners can also put plants on the roof of buildings, referred to as a “green roof” to reduce the heat island effect, improve air quality and keep the building below cooler, reducing the amount of energy needed to keep the air conditioning running. Paired with proposed plans such as smart traffic systems that work to reduce gridlock and the idling of cars which increases carbon dioxide emissions, more green space can only help. Add to that the implementation of solar panels to rooftops further reduces carbon emissions, and the city is all that much cleaner and livable than if only technology was used.

In coastal cities such as Miami, increasing native plant cover near the water can also offset erosion and reduce the effects of strong winds and waves from hurricanes. Protecting coral reefs in more tropical locations as well as oyster beds in places like New York City and Brooklyn, storm surges would be weakened and flooding from storms such as super storm Sandy in 2011 would not be as impactful. A compounding effect from protecting aquatic habitats is improved water quality. In Baltimore’s inner harbor, for instance, oysters, wetlands, and seagrasses all remove toxic chemicals from the Chesapeake Bay, which then prevents those chemicals from ending up in the seafood eaten by locals. These solutions, while practical, also add economic value to a city because people value green space and scenic views of pristine water. Add to that the fact that people in cities are farther removed from nature, so giving city-dwellers access to natural spaces and species can reconnect them with nature and rekindle the desire to protect habitats and species.

It is easy to see that we can’t fight the dynamic forces of nature with only artificial solutions, but we can work together to protect the land, air, and sea that we need to sustain our cities.