Stream 3: People and management

Assessing and valuing our environment: Challenging the ecosystem service approach
  • Emma McKinley1, Jordi F. Pagès2, Martin Paar33, Hendrik Schubert4, Victor N. de Jonge5
  • 1Cardiff University, UK
  • 2Bangor University, UK
  • 3Greifswald University, Germany
  • 4Rostock University, Germany
  • 5University of Hull, UK

Over the last decades, international obligations have required governments and associated organisations to assess the status of their coastal, estuarine and marine waters. Several methods or approaches have been developed to support the implementation of these new environmental policies. By assessing ecosystem condition or status, the idea was to indirectly determine the impact of human use to the functioning and the structure of coastal and marine systems. This approach is, however, only one step in a longer chain of actions where drivers (D) set pressure (P) to our ecosystems, changing their state (S) with impact (I) to both the ecological as well as the social system. This may finally result in a response (R) from both the ecosystem as well as society that will depend on their respective and joint redundancy, complexity and overall resilience.

Apart from the frameworks based on determining ecosystem status/condition by quantifying ecosystem ‘structure’ (i.e. biodiversity) and ‘functioning’ (e.g. redundancy, etc), there is also the determination to make all the steps in for example the above described DPSIR approach comparable to each other via ‘monetary’ or ‘non-monetary’ units (e.g. magnitude of carbon flows). If successful, we would be able to compare the potential maximum ecosystem services provision with the amount we humans take from that system, and compare it to how much the ecosystem itself is able to restore or repair without human intervention. We thus aim to quantify the different ecosystem services (ES) in one unit (e.g. dollars), while the impact of the use of the service is expressed in another magnitude (i.e. changed ‘structure’ as biodiversity, and/or ‘functioning’ as carbon flows).

In recent years, there has been an increasing level of apparent acceptance that the ES framework is the most appropriate tool through which this assessment can be undertaken. However, irrespective of the perceived success achieved, the approach faces uncertainties: applied in an environment with conflicting interests, the ES approach has had a mixed uptake, with some favouring it, while others remain uncertain about its implementation or even questioning its philosophical roots. As a consequence, the approach can sometimes be of little or even no practical help for management and decision-makers. Given the complexity associated with applying the ES framework in a marine, coastal and estuarine context, key questions remain as to whether the concept might constrain thought towards the monetization of nature, that the concept is too anthropocentric, or that it resonates with dominant neoliberal ideology, and indeed whether valuation of any kind is useful. These questions have led to a growing area of work, aimed at examining all the above aspects (developing tools) and stakeholder perceptions and mechanisms of social appreciation of ES.

This special session will focus on the progresses and trends in the development of tools to assess ecosystems unambiguously, in the development of ecosystem services approaches and in how to merge all these challenging frameworks. We welcome specifically contributions that aim to analyse successful and failing examples of ES implementation in the field, ideas to better link ecosystem structure and functioning with ES provision, as well as mechanisms of social appreciation and contributions unravelling the history of coastal assessment tools. We intend to promote discussion and part of the session will be devoted to evaluate delegate attitudes towards the ES framework through a questionnaire – examining whether ES provides practitioners with an effective communication and management tool, or if the very language and terminology associated with it disengages people. The session will contribute to ongoing debate surrounding the validity of the ES concept and the value of ecosystem (food webs) assessment tools/approaches, with the intention of improving an integrative application and, therefore, improving management of estuarine, coastal and marine ecosystems in an increasingly human-modified world. As part of the outputs from this workshop, the session convenors will seek to produce a perspectives publication to synthesise the lessons and best practice learned through the session.

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Supporting Publications
Organised by
  • Elsevier
  • ECSA
Supported by
  • tourism