What are Ecosystem Services?
Humankind benefits from a multitude of resources and processes that are supplied by natural ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are defined as “ecosystem services” and include products like clean drinking water, and processes like the decomposition of wastes. The Millennium Assessment has identified four groups of ecosystem services:
- Provisioning (e.g., subsistence and commercial fisheries attained from healthy reefs)
- Regulating (protection of beaches and coastlines from storm surges and waves)
- Cultural (tourism and recreation)
- Supporting (nursery habitats)
Ecosystem services are distinct from other ecosystem products and functions, because there is human demand for these natural assets.
As human populations grow, so do resource demands imposed on ecosystems and impacts of our global footprint. For many years, people have assumed that these ecosystem services are free and infinitely available. However, impacts of anthropogenic use and abuse are becoming more apparent, especially around coral reefs: oceans are being overfished, invasive species are extending beyond their historical boundaries, and deforestation is eliminating flood control around human settlements. Consequently, society is now realizing that ecosystem services are not only threatened and limited, but that the need to evaluate trade-offs between immediate and long-term human needs is urgent.
To help inform decision-makers, economic value is increasingly associated with many ecosystem services, and often based on the cost of replacing these services with human derived alternatives, such as installing a breakwater where the natural system that used to provide a barrier has been destroyed. The on-going challenge of prescribing economic value to nature is prompting shifts in how we recognize and manage the environment, social responsibility, business opportunities, and our future as a species.
Tourism Values (2:12)
Palauans talk about coral reef tourism and the importance to Palau's economy.
What Services Should Be Considered?
Since there are many ecosystem services that benefit human,s it is important to include them in management plans. These services have been well reviewed and defined in the Millennium Assessment, and the other links on this page.
Often the provisioning and cultural services of fisheries and tourism, respectively, are considered in MPA management plans. However, regulating and supporting services should also be reviewed, valued if possible, and represented in any resilient MPA network. A healthy reef will be able to provide multiple services to the community that depends on it; including the services the reef provides in management plans is one way to ensure reef health.
Measuring Ecosystem Services
There are many methods by which to measure ecosystem services. However, it should be noted that the values that are determined from these methods, whether in dollars, number of jobs, or tons of fish, should be kept in perspective and evaluated within the larger context of how they will contribute to reef health. For a review of common methods please see the following sites and documents:
- Practical guidelines on how to conduct socioeconomic monitoring (for SE Asia, Caribbean and Western Indian Ocean. Pacific Guidelines are under development and should be launched soon). These guidelines may require some modification for application in other geographies.
- The Economics of Worldwide Coral Reef Degradation
- NOAA Coasts
- Biodiversity Economics (Web page with multiple MPA services papers listed)
Using Ecosystem Services Information in Management
Once services have been measured, or at least accounted for, managers can use this information to:
- Prioritize which areas should be protected/restored
- Balance between extractive and conservation uses
- Balance between sustainable harvesting and ensuring healthy reefs for biodiversity and tourism goals
Social Resilience is a very new concept that this toolkit does not cover currently. However, ensuring MPAs are resilient from a social and economic standpoint is a critical step in building resilience. Please visit the R2 home page regularly for updates on information on how social resilience relates to coral reef conservation.