S1720 Coastal Wetlands, Lagoon and Estuaries: Environmental Monitoring and Management (Sustainable Development Sp. Track)

Silvestri Sonia

What are the main environmental issues in coastal lagoons and estuaries? What are the chief physical processes driving them? Why should we restore coastal wetlands? Lagoons, deltas and estuaries are subject to rapid and sometimes extreme changes, in response to natural and anthropogenic pressures. Importantly, the responses are not just related to physical processes, such as sediment dynamics induced by hydrodynamic patterns or extreme meteorological events, but also to ecological dynamics, in connection with vegetation cover, and the biological status of the sediments. Beside their evident ecological importance, coastal humid areas are often the location of important human settlements and centres of relevant social/cultural interests. In fact, direct or indirect human interference has produced in the past - and is still producing - rapid morphological and ecological modifications of estuaries and lagoons worldwide. Venice and its lagoon are a well-documented and representative example of the possible outcomes of human-natural systems interactions in coastal environments.

The course is open to both a technical and non-technical audience since it addresses general environmental issues in lagoons, estuaries/deltas and wetlands. The main processes driving change in these environments will be presented, as well as the dominant eco-morphological processes, in terms of how they respond to pressures like changes in sea level rise and water quality issues related to sustaining marshes and aquaculture. The course will use the history of the Venice lagoon, as well as descriptions of its more recent modifications, as an illustration of the issues connected with changes in coastal lagoons and estuaries driven by human impacts, induced climatic changes, and natural environmental dynamics. Global warming consequences and sea level rise will be addressed. Adaptation measures to rising sea levels will be discussed, with particular reference to the MOSE system, a system of gates currently being constructed to protect the city of Venice from extreme high tides.

The course will also focus on observing, monitoring, and environmental assessment: the necessary basis for management policies. Wetland functions, hydrology, decomposition, community habitat, and productivity will be discussed in an ecosystem context. With this background the use of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment and erosion control will be presented. Students will acquire familiarity with various monitoring technologies, with a particular focus on satellite remote-sensing tools. Applications to the Venice Lagoon will be discussed in detail also through hands-on projects.


Course duration: the global course duration is 13 weeks + 1 week for the exams:

2 lectures (90 minutes each) for a total of 3 hrs per week. Moreover, there will be 3 field trips (about 14 hrs in total spent in the field).


Course objectives and outcomes:

- To develop (1) an understanding of the main natural and anthropogenic drivers of the evolution of environments subjected to tidal forces, including both biotic and abiotic components; (2) a conceptual understanding of wetland preservation and restoration concepts and related topics; (3) the ability to analyze resource and management problems in coastal restoration.

- To analyze (1) wetland functions, ecosystem services and management strategies for wetland and coastal restoration; (2) specific examples of protection/restoration activities applied in the Venice Lagoon.

- To develop (1) an understanding of how in-situ and remote sensing observations can support our understanding of coastal ecological and morphological dynamics.

- To provide students with (1) the opportunity for reviewing and discussing restoration procedures and restoration assessments; (2) experience in leading a seminar and critiquing research papers.


Several modes of teaching are utilized: lectures (several guest speakers will be brought in), readings (readings of research articles are critiqued and students are asked to prepare a written analysis of articles or lead a seminar and discussion on a chosen aspect). Three field trips in the Venice Lagoon by boat will be arranged, to visit natural and restored salt marshes, barrier islands dunes and protection structures, and finally the MOSE system.


Field Trips and co-curricular activities: (see also: Syllabus)

The following 3 field trips and one co-curricular activity are mandatory:

March 17: Field trip to the Venice lagoon salt marshes. Half day.

March 24: Field trip to Murazzi - Piccolo Museo (S. Piero in Volta), seagrass meadows and Ca’ Roman. Full day.

May 10, 5.00 pm: Introductory lecture to the MOSE visit.

May 12: Field trip to Consorzio Venezia Nuova and the MOSE control room. Half day.