Marine ecosystems are the largest of Earth's aquatic ecosystems and are distinguished by waters that have a high salt content. These systems contrast with freshwater ecosystems, which have a lower salt content. Marine waters cover more than 70% of the surface of the Earth and account for more than 97% of Earth's water supply and 90% of habitable space on Earth. Marine ecosystems include nearshore systems, such as the salt marshes, mudflats, seagrass meadows, mangroves, rocky intertidal systems and coral reefs. They also extend outwards from the coast to include offshore systems, such as the surface ocean, pelagic ocean waters, the deep sea, oceanic hydrothermal vents, and the sea floor. Marine ecosystems are characterized by the biological community of organisms that they are associated with and their physical environment.
Mangroves are trees or shrubs that grow in low-oxygen soil near coastlines in tropical or subtropical latitudes. They are an extremely productive and complex ecosystem that connects the land and sea. Mangroves consist of species that are not necessarily related to each other and are often grouped for the characteristics they share rather than genetic similarity. Because of their proximity to the coast, they have all developed adaptions such as salt excretion and root aeration to live in salty, oxygen-depleted water. Mangroves can often be recognized by their dense tangle of roots that act to protect the coast by reducing erosion from storm surges, currents, wave, and tides. The mangrove ecosystem is also an important source of food for many species as well as excellent at sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with global mangrove carbon storage is estimated at 34 million metric tons per year.
Estuaries occur where there is a noticeable change in salinity between saltwater and freshwater sources. This is typically found where rivers meet the ocean or sea. The wildlife found within estuaries is unique as the water in these areas is brackish - a mix of freshwater flowing to the ocean and salty seawater. Other types of estuaries also exist and have similar characteristics as traditional brackish estuaries. The Great Lakes are a prime example. There, river water mixes with lake water and creates freshwater estuaries. Estuaries are extremely productive ecosystems that many humans and animal species rely on for various activities. This can be seen as, of the 32 largest cities in the world, 22 are located on estuaries as they provide many environmental and economic benefits such as crucial habitat for many species, and being economic hubs for many coastal communities. Estuaries also provide essential ecosystem services such as water filtration, habitat protection, erosion control, gas regulation nutrient cycling, and it even gives education, recreation and tourism opportunities to people.
Coastal marine ecosystems experience growing population pressures with nearly 40% of people in the world living within 100 km of the coast. Humans often aggregate near coastal habitats to take advantage of ecosystem services. For example, coastal capture fisheries from mangroves and coral reef habitats are estimated to be worth a minimum of $34 billion per year. Yet, many of these habitats are either marginally protected or not protected. Mangrove area has declined worldwide by more than one-third since 1950, and 60% of the world's coral reefs are now immediately or directly threatened. Human development, aquaculture, and industrialization often lead to the destruction, replacement, or degradation of coastal habitats.
Moving offshore, pelagic marine systems are directly threatened by overfishing. Global fisheries landings peaked in the late 1980s, but are now declining, despite increasing fishing effort. Fish biomass and average trophic level of fisheries landing are decreasing, leading to declines in marine biodiversity. In particular, local extinctions have led to declines in large, long-lived, slow-growing species, and those that have narrow geographic ranges. Biodiversity declines can lead to associated declines in ecosystem services. A long-term study reports the decline of 74–92% of catch per unit effort of sharks in Australian coastline from the 1960s to 2010s.