What are marine ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being. They support directly or indirectly our survival and quality of life. Ecosystem services can be categorized in following main types:

Provisioning services are the products obtained from ecosystems such as food, fresh water, wood, fiber, genetic resources and medicines.

Regulating services are defined as the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes such as climate regulation, natural hazard regulation, water purification and waste management, pollination or pest control.

Habitat services highlight the importance of ecosystems to provide habitat for migratory species and to maintain the viability of gene-pools.

Supporting services are services that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services. Some examples include biomass production, production of atmospheric oxygen, soil formation and retention, nutrient cycling, water cycling, and provisioning of habitat.

Cultural services include non-material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems such as spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation and aesthetic values, including, e.g., knowledge systems, social relations, and aesthetic values.

Ecosystem functions are the physical, chemical, and biological processes or attributes that contribute to the self-maintenance of an ecosystem; in other words, what the ecosystem does. Some examples of ecosystem functions are provision of wildlife habitat, carbon cycling, or the trapping of nutrients.  Thus, ecosystems, such as wetlands, forests, or estuaries, can be characterized by the processes, or functions, that occur within them.

Ecosystem services are the beneficial outcomes, for the natural environment or people, that result from ecosystem functions. Some examples of ecosystem services are support of the food chain, harvesting of animals or plants, and the provision of clean water or scenic views.  In order for an ecosystem to provide services to humans, some interaction with, or at least some appreciation by, humans is required. Thus, functions of ecosystems are value-neutral, while their services have value to society.

Marine ecosystem services are goods and services from the sea and coast that contribute to human welfare. Typical examples of marine ecosystem services are fish, marine mammals, and shellfish. Other marine ecosystem services include fishing trips and diving. A third form of services provided by the sea is that it provides for biodegradation of biological waste that accompanies sewage and sewage, and fjords can serve as landfills

Even though ecosystem valuation can be a difficult and controversial task, and economists have often been criticized for trying to put a “pricetag” on nature.  However, agencies in charge of protecting and managing natural resources must often make difficult spending decisions that involve tradeoffs in allocating resources.  These types of decisions are economic decisions, and thus are based, either explicitly or implicitly, on society’s values. Therefore, economic valuation can be useful, by providing a way to justify and set priorities for programs, policies, or actions that protect or restore ecosystems and their services.

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