Economic (socio-economic) valuation regularily makes coastal conservation efforts appear more desirable than what they appear when their value is calculated in business terms only. In the past, the economic value of coastal ecosystems was thought to be approximately the same as their value for tourism and commercial fisheries. Only the direct benefits to the private economy were considered and the short-term perspective dominated.
As we know, private economic benefits in the form of employment, income sources and attractive investment conditions are important to all of us. Nevertheless, considering only them in decision-making is not the way to a sustainable society, in which benefits are shared equally between today’s citizens and those of the future generations .
When only the private benefits are taken into consideration, for instance coastal mangroves are commonly considered wasteland, which may be converted to more lucrative uses like shrimp ponds and construction sites for coastal hotels. This kind of development has taken place in many Central American and South-East Asian countries.
Crucial benefits of mangroves to the society as a whole have been forgotten when these ecosystems have been converted into uses which favour just a few investors and their employees. These benefits include the unique protection provided by mangroves to coastal settlements when a hurricane or tsunami hits from the sea. Mangroves also stabilise the coastline and prevent shoreline erosion.
To continue with the mangroves & economics example, another benefit offered by these plant communities is the nursery function to commercially important fish and shrimp species. In addition, mangroves produce organic matter which is an important food source for other marine ecosystems. In the developing societies without sewage treatment plants mangroves help us by filtering the waste waters and by preventing eutrophication and algal blooms in the sea.
One way to summarise the total economic value of marine and coastal ecosystems is here 1):
- Direct values: production and consumption of goods such as fish, firewood, building materials, shells, corals, tourism and leisure, transport, etc.
- Indirect values: ecological services and functions such as shoreline protection, prevention of saltwater intrusion, storm and flood control, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, etc.
- Option values: premium placed in future possible uses and applications such as those of extractive, leisure, pharmaceutical, industrial etc. character.
- Existence values: intrinsic significance in terms of culture, aesthetics, heritage, bequest, etc.
In addition, we need to remember that only the on-site / marketed benefits are those traditionally considered in the valuation of coastal zone resources, while those which are off-site / nonmarketed are commonly ignored. This leads us to another way to summarise the economic valuation of coastal resources by using mangroves as an example 2):
- Marketed / on-site goods and services: usually included in an economic analysis (e.g. poles for construction, charcoal, woodchips, mangrove crabs).
- Marketed / off-site goods and services: may be included (e.g. fish or shellfish caught in the adjacent waters).
- Non-marketed / on-site goods and services: seldom included (e.g. medicinal uses of mangrove, domestic fuelwood, food in times of famine, nursery area for juvenile fish, feeding ground for estuarine fish and shrimp, viewing and studying wildlife).
- Non-marketed / off-site goods and services: usually ignored (e.g. ecologically important nutrient flows to estuaries, buffer to storm damage).
1) From R.V. Salm, John Clark and Erkki Siirila (2000): Marine and Coastal Protected Areas, A guide for planners and managers. IUCN. Washington DC. xxi + 371 pp.
2) From lecturing material used by coastal management consultant Dr. Peter Burbridge, U.K.