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Habitat—What’s it Worth?

It’s easy to understand why healthy coastal and marine habitat is important for fish and wildlife, but what value do we place on habitat for ourselves? Though we often take it for granted, nature clearly plays a significant role in our lives whether we are eating seafood from a nearby estuary or vacationing at our favorite beach—examples of benefits we receive from healthy coastal and marine ecosystems. Today, you might hear these benefits referred to as ecosystem services.

We conserve habitat to make sure the benefits of our natural resources—or ecosystem services—are available for healthy coastal communities and future generations. And, the work of conserving habitat makes a positive contribution to our economy by generating “green” jobs and making sure coastal resources are available for industries such as fishing and tourism.

What are Ecosystem Services?

Ecosystem services are the contributions that a biological community and its habitat provide to our day-to-day lives. Defining ecosystem services is dependent on human values. Examples of ecosystem services that directly benefit people include food, medicine, recreation, and storm protection. Other ecosystem services are less tangible, such as habitat’s role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere—a positive effect on our global climate.

Our attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, customs, and traditions are often associated with the surrounding nature and environmental quality. Coastal habitat has long been significant to us beyond harvesting fish and other coastal products. Though it can be difficult to apply dollars and cents to nature’s splendor and tranquility, we cannot forget its importance to the social and cultural well-being of our society.

What is Our Role?

With healthy habitat under threat nationwide, we can no longer take ecosystem services for granted. Our goal is to enhance coastal resource management decisions by demonstrating the social and economic contributions of healthy habitat on:

  • Coastal and marine resources
  • Commercial, recreational, and non-market economic activities
  • The health and safety of the nation’s citizens
  • Protecting property and communities.
Examples of how we are supporting this goal include:

  • Local Communities Find Value in Restoring Elwha River

  • What's for Trade in the Chesapeake Bay?

  • Saving Guam's Coral Reefs