Wastewater input reductions reverse historic hypereutrophication of Boston Harbor, USA

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This paper documents the changes that followed large nutrient (N and P) and organic matter input reductions to a major metropolitan marine bay, Boston Harbor (USA). Before input reduction, its N and P inputs fell in the upper range of the < 1–> 300 gN m−2 year−1 and < 0.1–> 40 gP m−2 year−1 for coastal systems. Elevated nutrient and organic matter inputs are recognized causes of coastal eutrophication. Treatment upgrades and then diversion of its wastewater discharges offshore, lowered its N, P, and organic C inputs by 80–90%. The input decreases lowered its trophic status from hypereutrophic to eutrophic–mesotrophic. With the reversal of hypereutrophication, pelagic production and phytoplankton biomass decreased, and the nitrogen limitation relative to phosphorus limitation increased. Benthic metabolism and dissolved inorganic N fluxes decreased, and benthic–pelagic coupling was altered. Bottom-water dissolved oxygen, already at healthy levels, increased, and seagrass expanded. Coastal management requires that the changes, following the nutrient and organic matter input reductions implemented to address eutrophication, be understood. Boston Harbor’s recovery, because its water column was vertically well mixed and marine, was more pronounced than in many other systems.

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