Ocean Ecosystem and Resources : Characterizing the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Ecosystem

Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from the structure and function of ecosystems. Examples of ecosystem services provided by the Mid-Atlantic ocean are

  • provisioning services such as seafood, transportation, and national defense;
  • regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality;
  • cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and
  • supporting services such as photosynthesis and nutrient cycling (NEFSC 2015, MEA 2009).

The economic benefit of marine ecosystem services from Virginia to Maine is estimated at some $362 billion and 3 million jobs (Hoagland et al. 2008). The estimate rises to $623 billion when including both indirect and direct value (Hoagland et al. 2008).

Examples of ecosystem services.

Valuation of Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are one way to consider linkages between nature and humans holistically, and to support ecosystem-based management. Coastal scientists and managers are increasingly considering the importance of ecosystem services, and more tools are becoming available to describe and quantify the economic and non-economic value of those services. However, quantitative consideration of cumulative impacts and multiple stressors on an ecosystem and the services it provides are an exception rather than the norm (Prahler et al. 2014). The National Environmental Protection Act requires the consideration of cumulative impacts and multiple stressors (see Cumulative Impacts), but only very recently have agencies been instructed to examine environmental change in the context of ecosystem services (Executive Office of the President 2015).

NOAA and others are exploring the potential for marine-focused market mechanisms for considering ecosystem services such as water filtration provided by oyster beds, and wave attenuation and carbon sequestration services of tidal marshes. Ongoing studies investigate the suitability of modeling tools, such as Marine InVest, based on ecosystem services valuation to support development of environmental markets.

Ecosystem service valuation process. (NOAA)