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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.
Local Communities Find Value in Restoring Elwha River
The purpose of this project in Washington state is to restore the Elwha River's lower floodplain to its natural state after the removal of two large dams by the National Park Service. NOAA's Elwha River and Floodplain Restoration Project includes three discrete project areas: 1) restoration of floodplain habitat in the lower Elwha River, 2) native plantings and control of invasive plants that support dam removal actions, and 3) initiation of long-term monitoring of adult fish populations in the Elwha River.
With funding from the Estuary Restoration Act, NOAA is conducting an ecosystem services valuation survey to estimate recreational and passive-use values for the restored river and flood plain. The study will provide answers to the following questions:
- What is the effect on the public's welfare from dam removal and flood plain restoration?
- What is the value of preserving key endangered or threatened species?
- What are the potential changes in recreational use from river restoration?
What's for Trade in the Chesapeake Bay?
The President's Executive Order 13508 calls for strengthened federal leadership and commitment to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. It also recommends federal agencies to integrate the private sector; thus, one of the eight core initiatives in the draft final strategy focuses on environmental markets. The current focus is on Total Maximum Daily Loads(TMDL)for nutrients and sediments, but NOAA is exploring the potential for additional marine-focused market mechanisms, for example, filtration services from oyster habitat.
To this end we are investigating the suitability of using a modeling tool (Marine InVest) based on ecosystem services valuation to support development of environmental markets. Likely environmental markets will include nutrient and sediment trading. However, future trading might include other ecosystem services such as carbon (greenhouse gas) capture, habitat or conservation easements, or water quality improvements through oyster reef filtration. For more details, visit NOAA and the Executive Order.
Saving Guam's Coral Reefs
The ecosystem services associated with the corals reefs of Guam are likely to be impacted as a result of the planned relocation of approximately 8,600 Marines, dependents, and support personnel from military bases in Okinawa to Guam. This move will also require the construction of support facilities and a new deep-draft wharf for ships. NOAA has been engaged in consultations with the Navy and other federal partners to identify ways to reduce the impacts to coral habitat due to dredging and wharf construction. Ecosystem services concepts, including the use of Habitat Equivalency Analysis, will be used to help guide this process.