Ecosystem services in the GMR and their valuation

23 Aug 21 /

Oceans are key providers of ecosystem services (ES), provisioning environmental goods at global scale that underpin the livelihoods and wellbeing of entire populations. These ES range from providing food and raw materials, such as fish, sand, and rocks, to regulating vital biological and environmental processes like fostering life cycle of marine species, giving coastal protection, purifying water, and stabilizing the world’s climate. ES also include recreational, cultural and spiritual aspects.

The vastness and scope of ocean ecosystems enable their supply of global environmental goods and services. Photo by: Octavio Aburto, CDF.

Although nature’s contributions to human welfare are incredibly valuable, anthropogenic pressures over ecosystems are weakening nature’s ability and quality at providing the flow of ecosystem services. This situation, in fact, threatens Earth´s life support system, and jeopardizes livelihoods and wellbeing of current and future generations. The vastness and scope of ocean ecosystems also enable their supply of global environmental goods and services which become threatened by climate change, overexploitation of marine resources, pollution, and habitat loss. In this regard, understanding how losses of valuable ES arise, and hinder the prosperity of communities becomes crucial to reflect as society on the current endless growth economic model that compromise those ES and to inform to policymakers on the adoption of measures to safeguard high-value marine habitats. Economics poses some interesting answers to these questions.

As nature’s goods and services are usually public goods there are not market prices for them, a situation that results in inefficient use of the ecosystems providing these goods and services which ultimately results in their destruction. Valuing ecosystem services becomes an important tool to this concern, since the production of relevant information makes possible for decision- and policy-makers to also look at economic, social and human values of marine ecosystems, and their fundamental contribution at maintaining the welfare of the human communities which depend upon them.

Los servicios ecosistémicos de la Reserva Marina de Galápagos incluyen la provisión de alimentos como el pescado, así como la provisión de otros recursos naturales.
The ecosystem services of the Galapagos Marine Reserve include the provision of food, such as fish, as well as the provision of other natural resources. Photo by: Juan Manuel García, CDF.

The Galapagos archipelago, with its numerous ecosystems and unique biodiversity, is an ideal place where to observe the complex interactions between social and natural systems. Galapagos clearly illustrates how a nature-based driven economy which has constituted the foundation of welfare and prosperity of local, national and global communities faces huge challenges due to unexpected events that compromise its long-term viability.

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) has engaged in applied research, looking at measuring and valuing indispensable ecosystem services in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). This process has entailed fostering and promoting interdisciplinary research, that has for example measured the economic contribution of Galapagos mangroves to mitigate CO2 emissions. Likewise, we have built experimental ecosystem accounting tools for the local artisanal fisheries, where policymakers can track how much income and jobs depend on each ecosystem and key species.

Una investigación interdisciplinaria de la FCD midió la contribución económica de los manglares de Galápagos para mitigar las emisiones de CO2.
An interdisciplinary research of the FCD measured the economic contribution of Galapagos mangroves to mitigate CO2 emissions. Photo by: Nicolás Moity, CDF.

Currently, hand in hand with Heriot-Watt University, and with generous funding of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) of the UK’s Research and Innovation (UKRI), the CDF has been designing and carrying out fundamental valuation studies for the GMR. Specifically, to value the economic impact of policies designed to protect the provision of services from essential marine ecosystems. These are important inputs for the Galapagos National Park Directorate, to design and apply evidence-based policies for the governance, conservation and management of these ecosystems. Moreover, economic valuation research also aims to highlight the ocean’s contribution to human welfare, and the critical relevance of interdisciplinary research and information-based policies to build a strong regulatory framework ensuring conservation of our oceans.

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Andres Cruz

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