Economic valuation of goods and services of the UK coastal and marine ecosystem

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This article illustrates an attempt to estimate the value of ecosystem goods and services for a concrete case: the British coastal zone. Therefore, the links between marine biodiversity and the provision of services are analyzed in order to attach an indicative monetary value to each service where possible. Estimating the total economic value of the coastal ecosystem in monetary terms can prevent overexploitation and environmental degradation due to overlooking less obvious ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling.

The valuation of biodiversity

Biodiversity is a broad concept that encompasses many different levels, from genetic variation among individuals and populations to diversity of species, assemblages, habitats, landscapes, and biogeographical provinces. Several indices have been developed to enable measurements of biodiversity. However, these indices do not tell what value should be attached to biodiversity. One way to value biodiversity is to consider the goods and services provided to society by ecosystems. This requires identification of the different ecosystem processes and components that provide goods and services to satisfy human needs, directly or indirectly. Enhancing or impairing one of the ecosystem processes or components generally has consequences for several goods and services. Some single services can provide additional value when considered in the context of other services with which they coexist, on a broader scale (spatial or temporal) than the scale of investigation. An important notion is therefore that the exploitation of one of the ecosystem services can influence other services, usually in a negative and sometimes positive way. A serious caveat is that existing knowledge is generally insufficient to fully understand ecosystem functioning and the way in which different ecosystem processes and components are affected by human interventions.

Value of goods and services

A goods and services approach was used to determine the economic value of marine biodiversity in the UK. This study was initiated to collect evidence about the possible renewal of UK marine legislation[1]. Table 1 provides a description of the methods used for the valuation of goods and services provided by the UK coastal and marine ecosystem.

Most of the monetary values in the last column of Table 1 are underestimates because only one or a few components of the total good or service have been valued due to missing data. There are several limitations associated with the monetary data. Market values generally do not fully represent the true value of a resource because not all added value has been taken into account. Contingent valuation and techniques for estimating monetary values of avoidance and substitution are discussed in the article Socio-economic evaluation. This article provides links to more detailed underlying articles that discuss other assumptions and limitations of methods for determining use and non-use values. This applies in particular to the questionable assumption that biodiversity goods and services can be perfect substitutes for man-made alternatives.

Table 1. An overview of goods and services provided by UK marine biodiversity (adapted from Beaumont et al., 2006[1])

Good/service Definition Goods and services considered for the UK Annual value in million UK pounds
Production services Food provision Plants and animals taken from the marine environment for human consumption Market value of fish landings + unreported catches (no data) + value of fish processing industry (no data) > 513
Raw materials The extraction of marine organisms for all purposes, except human consumption Commercial value of harvested seaweed + industrial conversion (no data) + other raw biogenic materials (no data) > 81.5
Regulation services Gas and climate regulation The balance and maintenance of the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans by marine living organisms Damage avoided from sequestered carbon through primary production + damage avoided by regulation of the chemical composition of the atmosphere (no data), see Greenhouse gas regulation > (420 -8,470)
Disturbance prevention and alleviation The dampening of environmental disturbances by biogenic structures Reduced investment and maintenance costs of sea defence structures thanks to the presence of salt marshes > 300
Bioremediation of waste Removal of pollutants through storage, dilution, transformation and burial Potential savings on conventional waste water treatment due to the bioremediation function of marine benthic organisms
Cultural services Cultural heritage and identity The cultural value associated with the marine environment, e.g. for religion, folklore, painting, cultural and spiritual traditions Lack of information
Cognitive values Cognitive development, including education and research, resulting from marine organisms Added market value of marine research and development + education and training < 317
Leisure and recreation The refreshment and stimulation of the human body and mind through the perusal and engagement with, living marine organisms in their natural environment Economic value of marine leisure + recreation + holiday tourism + cruising + leisure craft services < 11,770
Non-use values – bequest and existence Value which we derive from marine organisms without using them Willingness to pay to maintain all sea mammal species > (500-1,100)
Option use value Option use value Currently unknown potential future uses of the marine environment Insufficient information on the value of genetic diversity for future medicines
Supporting services Nutrient cycling The storage, cycling and maintenance of availability of nutrients mediated by living marine organism Value of continuous treatment UK waters, however this biodiversity function is also needed to maintain the marine ecosystem 800-2,320
Resilience and resistance The extent to which ecosystems can absorb recurrent natural and human perturbations and continue to regenerate without slowly degrading or unexpectedly flipping to alternate states Insufficient quantitative knowledge of the relationship between biodiversity and resilience
Biologically mediated habitat Habitat which is provided by living marine organisms Insufficient information on the probable high value of marine biologically mediated habitats

The aim of this valuation process was not to determine a single value for UK marine biodiversity, but to detail current knowledge, focus future research and clarify the role of valuation in conservation of marine biodiversity. The strength of the UK goods and services valuation data lies in its capacity to raise awareness of the importance of marine biodiversity. This valuation data, however, should only be used alongside the qualitative information and with a clear understanding of the associated limitations. Descriptive text for each of the goods and services is as important as the monetary data, and clarifies the linkages between biodiversity and the provision of these functions in UK coastal and shelf waters.

A decline in UK marine biodiversity could result in a varying and, at present, unpredictable change in the provision of goods and services. This could result in severe impacts on society and the economy, including reduced resilience and resistance to change, declining marine environmental health and water quality, reduced fisheries potential, loss of recreational opportunities, decreased employment and reduced carbon uptake. Effective management of marine biodiversity is critical to ensure the continued supply of goods and services[2].

All of these marine plants and animals contribute to the production of the food we have on our tables.

Related articles

Socio-economic evaluation
Total Economic Value
Valuation and assessment of biodiversity
Ecosystem services