Cultural value variation

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Valuation studies of biodiversity are full of complexity: how to define biodiversity, talk about it, and value it is difficult. One way to do so is to come at biodiversity through the Ecosystem Approach (EA) to the management of natural resources. Since first applied in a policy context at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the EA is on the rise in European and worldwide management (Laffoley et al. 2004) [1]. However, including social, economic, and environmental aspects into one method is extremely difficult and fraught with problems and limited success. One method which has been used is the good and services approach. “Assessing ecological processes and resources in terms of the goods and services they provide translates the complexity of the environment into a series of functions which can be more readily understood,” especially for policy makers and non-scientists” (Beaumont et al. 2007) [2].

“The full value of ecosystems and landscapes cannot be realized without recognizing the intrinsic values of ecosystem functions and their intimacy to human life” (Verschuuren 2006).[3] Given such growing recognition, the number of cultural valuation studies continues to grow. Until this point, however, studies on marine topics have primarily focused on either specialist or charismatic habitats such as coral-reefs (e.g. Cesar and Beukering 2004[4]; Spash 2002[5]) , or on the economic valuation of biodiversity (e.g. Ruitenbeek and Cartier 1999[6]). These studies are indicative of a paradigm shift towards more economic means of modeling value and diversity. More relevantly, they show that sociocultural valuation presents a more difficult and even more pressing task as indicators for sociocultural valuation of marine biodiversity have neither been developed nor tested (Delaney, Meek, and Marchioni n.d.).[7] Sociocultural valuation is distinct from economic importance and economic valuation.

For the cultural valuation of marine biodiversity in Europe in MarBEF[1], q-method was used to elicit data concerning the relationship between marine biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services (Delaney, Meek, and Marchioni n.d.)[8]. At the moment, there is no single, agreed-upon methodology for sociocultural valuation studies of biodiversity. The need exists, however, to experiment with additional methods such as participatory resource appraisal, multi criteria analysis (Verschuuren 2006),[9] and q-method which may elicit the importance of cultural values. Knowing the cultural and social valuation of biodiversity is key for effective strategies for biodiversity conservation to be developed, and in doing so, ensuring healthy ecosystem functioning. Using a sociocultural lens on the effort to preserve marine biodiversity enables management policies to draw on diverse epistemologies, and engage with all stakeholders in meaningful and transparent dialogues. “Science can help ensure that decisions are made with the best available information, but ultimately, the future of biodiversity will be determined by society” (MA 2005[10], in Verschuuren 2006[11].)

Cultural valuation links closely and draws upon cultural heritage and identity as the provision of food and employment is intrinsically linked with the support of cultural and spiritual traditions associated with, for example, fishing communities.

In Europe, MarBEF and MarBEF-affiliated researchers have undertaken the sociocultural valuation of marine biodiversity in the Isles of Scilly in the United Kindgom, in the Azores (Pico-Faial channel), and in mainland Portugal, in the Guadiana Estuary and the Ria Formosa.

In the Isles of Scilly, four main perspectives were delineated: • The Management Perspective, where the implementation and enforcement of regulations related to fisheries and protected area management are considered important given that species are diminishing. • The Contingent Value perspective, whereby value is seen through contingency- for example an environmental disaster such as an oil spill; the biodiversity valued overall is intrinsic. • The Future Policy Perspective, whereby management policies are important and even more management is felt to be needed, despite the fact they do not view species as diminishing now. • The Goods and Services Perspective, a holistic viewpoint whereby the goods and services as discussed in Beaumont (2007) (cultural heritage, fisheries, etc.), and the production values of biodiversity are emphasized.

These perspectives show some agreement among stakeholders of differing backgrounds, and provide an example of how this type of research could provide vital information for reaching consensus and acceptance of management measures. For example, there was consensus among stakeholders of groups which would sometimes be considered adversaries (e.g., fishers and environmentalists) and a group that has been traditionally considered “anti-management”, namely fishers, is actually in favour of stronger management measures.

In a remote, coastal location like the Isles of Scilly, there is a tension between the needs of employment and livelihood and the protection of the environment. The concourse shows us that this is not a black and white issue. Overall, stakeholders value a traditional way of life and do not want it to change; one way to reach this goal is to regulate the environment and protect marine biodiversity properly. The methodology that was applied is more commonly used for reaching consensus, and is therefore most useful in situations where there are conflicts and disagreement, such as with the introduction of an marine protected area or a wind farm.


  1. Laffoley, D., Maltby, E., Vincent, M.A., Mee, L., Dunn, E., Gilliland, P., Hamer, J.P., Mortimer, D., Pound, D., 2004. “The Ecosystem Approach. Coherent actions for marine and coastal environments. A report to the UK government.” Peterborough, English Nature. 65 pp.
  2. Beaumont, N.J., M.C. Austen, J.P. Atkins, D. Burdon, S. Degraer d, T.P. Dentinho, S. Derous, P. Holm, T. Horton, E. van Ierland, A.H. Marboe, D.J. Starkey, M. Townsend, T. Zarzycki, 2007. “Identification, definition and quantification of goods and services provided by marine biodiversity: Implications for the ecosystem approach.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 54 (2007) 253–265.
  3. Verschurren, B. n.d. on website: Accessed February 2009.
  4. Cesar, H.S. and Beukering, P.v. 2004. “Economic Valuation of the Coral Reefs of Hawai'i” Pacific Science Vol 58, No 2, April 2004, pp. 231-242
  5. Spash, Clive L. 2002. “Informing and forming preferences in environmental valuation: Coral reef biodiversity.” Journal of Economic Psychology, Volume 23, Issue 5, October 2002, p 665-687.
  6. Ruitenbeek, J. and C. Cartier. 1999. Issues in Applied Coral Reef Biodiversity Valuation: Results for Montego Bay, Jamaica. World Bank Research Committee Project RPO# 682-22. "Marine System Valuation: An Application to Coral Reef Systems in the Developing Tropics." Final Report, March 1999.
  7. Delaney, Meek, and Marchioni n.d. “Methods in the Sociocultural Valuation of Marine Biodiversity: Perspectives and Implications from the Isles of Scilly.” In process. Draft available upon request. ad @ ifm.aau . dk
  8. Delaney, Meek, and Marchioni n.d. “Methods in the Sociocultural Valuation of Marine Biodiversity: Perspectives and Implications from the Isles of Scilly.” In process. Draft available upon request. Ad @ ifm.aau . dk
  9. Verschuuren, B.2006. “An Overview of Cultural and Spiritual Values in Ecosystem Management and Conservation Strategies
  10. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  11. Verschuuren, B. 2006. “An Overview of Cultural and Spiritual Values in Ecosystem Management and Conservation Strategies.” Foundation for Sustainable Development, the Netherlands. 01.11.2006, version 3.

The main author of this article is Delaney, Alyne
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Delaney, Alyne (2009): Cultural value variation. Available from [accessed on 21-04-2021]