For fisherman and seafood fans, seagrass meadows are fish factories – they are the nurseries for many species of fish for industry, sport and table. Snorkeling and diving enthusiasts view coral reefs and kelp forests as some of nature’s most amazing destinations, and their interest generates billions every year in tourist dollars. To community planners, oyster reefs filter pollutants from the water and break wave energy, reducing the impacts from storms. When combined with salt marshes, mangroves, ocean currents, nutrient-rich upwellings and many other habitat types, the ocean provides countless valuable services to society.
A large and growing array of ecosystem science confirms these facts, but this science is not yet being translated into the engineering, financial and policy language that could drive changes in the way we evaluate and manage nature for our many needs. In the right hands, ecosystem service science will help decision-makers, development organizations, industry and community members make important planning decisions about coastal areas.
Mapping Ocean Wealth
The Conservancy’s goal is to describe – in quantitative terms – all that the ocean does for us today, so that we make smarter investments and decisions affecting what the ocean can do for us tomorrow.
We’ve coined the term “mapping ocean wealth” to describe a process where we move from broad global averages to specific local details, evaluating nature as an asset and incorporating its benefits into all coastal planning decisions.
Our work builds on rapidly advancing marine science and our tried and tested work on oysters, coral reefs and mangrove forests. In all these cases, we have built the most detailed understanding of what drives the value of a particular ecosystem. From thousands of field-based studies around the globe, we are compiling the science around what drives ecosystems and to map the benefits to people. We believe that the “value” of nature needs to be broadly conceived. Wealth in dollar terms is important, but wealth can also be expressed in other ways. Our aim is to understand and build the “production functions” that underpin ecosystem services and report those functions in terms of jobs, food security, risk reduction, visitor numbers and so on. This science enables us to map value, both at global scales – with enough resolution to change policy and influence wider investments – but also at finer scales – enabling us, and our partners, to map patterns of ecosystem value around bays or small islands.
Incorporating Ocean Wealth into Decision-Making
Our vision is to work with others to change the way the world sees the ocean. That means not only understanding its many values, but also communicating with and equipping decision-makers. This includes the engineers incorporating natural solutions into practical coastal engineering projects; it includes government agencies developing long-range plans for ocean-use and rebuilding fish populations; it also helps conservation groups seeking to maximize benefits from restoration projects; and aid organizations seeking to invest in nature for climate adaptation or poverty alleviation.
We cannot achieve this vision alone. The early planning work on Mapping Ocean Wealth has already benefited from governmental, academic, development, and conservation partner input and is collaborating with the Global Partnership for Oceans, a growing alliance of over 140 governments, international organizations, civil society groups, and private-sector interests committed to addressing the threats to the health, productivity and resilience of the ocean.
The Mapping Ocean Wealth collaboration has been strengthened by input from: Cambridge Conservation Initiative; Cambridge University; Duke University; Ecosystem Services Partnership; Global Partnership for Oceans; Natural Capital Project; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of California, Santa Cruz; Wetlands International; Wildlife Conservation Society; and World Resources Institute.
Investing in seagrass can yield big returns: just 2.5 acres can yield $200,000 in commercially important fish each year.
Scientist find coral reefs reduce 97% of wave energy reducing the risk of storm surge to coastal populations.
The Conservancy works with government agencies and local communities to anticipate and prepare for sea-level rise, storm surge, and to understand the role natural habitats can play in reducing risk from these threats. The Coastal Resilience approach and online tools help communities and government planners make well-informed decisions.
Despite the ocean’s valuable contribution to coastal economies and storm risk reduction, many habitats remain under extreme threat. Conservancy scientists, restoration experts, partners and volunteers are working to turn the tide. Over the past decade they have put science into action at over 160 restoration sites around the globe, 148 of which were conducted in partnership with NOAA in U.S. waters.
measuring fish production and filtration potential of oyster beds.
coral reefs may provide risk reduction benefits to as many as 200 million people around the world by reducing on average a full 97 percent of wave energy.