Sustaining our coastal resources: ecosystem valuation

by Liza Agudelo

Demonstrating the economic value of natural resources will enable policy makers to promote their sustainable use and conservation.

Current economic development trends are rapidly diminishing and polluting our natural resources, and current management practices often fall short of implementing appropriate measures to guarantee these resources will keep providing the services we all rely on. While extensive research is conducted to address this problem, research is seldomly translated into actions. This may change with a new ecosystem valuation tool for decision making tested in the Caribbean, according a to a study conducted by the World Resources Institute, that demonstrates the economic value of natural resources1.

Coastal ecosystems and marine resources are particularly affected. Despite their undeniable global importance for food security, biodiversity, protection against natural disasters, and economic livelihoods, these ecosystems continue to be the target of unsustainable practices, human pressures and pollution, not to mention to the detrimental impacts of rising sea levels and climate change. Governments and businesses often tend to overlook the long-term benefits of maintaining a healthy coastal ecosystems to favor short-term gains.

Fortunatly around the world efforts continue to be made to develop tools that can inform decision makers when it comes to the protection and sustainable management of marine resources. Several organizations and institutions – on their own or in partnerships – invest time and resources to study, design, identify lessons learned, and communicate strategies to this end. Numerous studies have provided valuable information, but in most cases a critical gap between research and action prevents valuable recommendations from materializing.

Ecosystem valuation stands as a tool that allows researchers and decision-makers to quantify the monetary value of ecosystem goods and services, and in so doing, making the economic case to protect coastal ecosystems. Valuation studies, however, have to be carefully designed to incorporate strategic elements that guarantee the adoption of recommendations by decision makers, and thus bridge the gap between research and action.

The publication of the World Resources Institute highlights three key elements: economic analysis based on solid science and focused on a clear policy question; broad participation by local stakeholders; and, effective communication and collaboration with stakeholders. Success stories so far have helped establish marine protected areas, determine fishing regulations, award damage claims, and identify sustainable sources of finance for conservation. While based on case studies in the Caribbean, recommendations could be applied to other coastal areas around the world. The economic case for long-term healthy coastal ecosystems should be made and communicated to those deciding the future of the areas.

In a world were financial resources to execute successful environmental management and conservation are scarce, it is important that we develop, use and share these type of tools,  that we facilitate the communication between researchers and decision makers, and that we help inform practitioners and stakeholders. By working together we have the capacity to contribute to sustain our coastal and marine resources for future generations.  At Planet4People we are committed to addressing these issues by working with relevant stakeholders to identify appropriate tools to bring research and action closer in support of for our coastal ecosystems. Contact us.

1 Coastal Capital: Ecosystem Valuation for Decision Making in the Caribbean. Richard Waite, Lauretta Burke, Erin Gray, Pieter van Beukering, Luke Brander, Emily McKenzie, Linwood Pendleton, Peter Schuhmann, Emma Tompkins. World Resources Institute, 2014