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Bite-size Case Study

A new approach to valuing ecosystem services

Published on June 30, 2019 Originally recorded 2016   4 min
0:04
What you see here is the map of Belize. Belize has a coastal region, a lot of islands, and has an archipelago of islands. It's a gorgeous area. Belize has several challenges. One, tourism is its major source of income. Obviously people do that. There are some very wealthy people, Leonardo DiCaprio for example, who own islands. The other thing is it has such an interesting flow in the ocean that an enormous amount of garbage from Honduras, Guatemala, and other places comes into Belize, and actually settles on its coasts. So that's one problem that they have. But the other problem that they're really concerned about is sea level rise from global climate change. So they have designed – and by the way, Belize is probably one of the most advanced coastal communities in the world, bar none, for this type of thinking – what they did was they contacted the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations, and we worked with them – Wake Forest University worked with them – and with the Belizean government, and we looked at the coast, and the question we asked ourselves is, "What kind of services are provided?" Well, first of all we looked at the coral reefs, the mangrove forests, sea grass beds, and we said, "Look at the services they provide." They provide lobster catch, there's carbon sequestration, there's tourism recreation, and there's coastal protection. So these are the ecosystem services. Now the question is, with sea level rise, some of these services would go away. In other words, the lobster catch would start to decrease; there would start to be coastal erosion; tourism might drop off if, in fact, a lot of the coastal community were eroded. So the question we ask is, "Is there a way to value these services in the sense that we can then convince people to invest in them so that they're preserved?" The question that came up a lot was, "Do we need to build man-made structures similar to Venice, for example, or what happens in Holland, or can we use the natural environment, if we preserve it, to actually maintain a lot of these ecosystem services?" So obviously through this study that we did we found ways that by investing and maintaining the ecosystem services – not doing man-built environment but trying to preserve mangroves, the sea grass beds, the coral reefs, controlling a lot of the lobster catching, doing certain interventions that are natural, that maintain the natural ecosystem services – in fact, we can maintain the coast there. Now, the very interesting question is then, "Who pays?" So is it Marriott and Hilton, and others who go there for tourism and build their hotels or build their communities. Should they pay? Should the government pay? So our role, Wake Forest's role, has been to actually facilitate that conversation in a national sense. So we built in some ways that the nation can have a conversation, and that people who normally aren't at the table can be; the fishermen are there, the townspeople, the people who are impacted economically can actually have a voice in helping to make some decisions about what next steps to do. If you're interested in coastal management, Belize is the place that you should go to look at how they're managing their coast. They have an enormous amount of interesting projects underway in very advanced thinking about coastal communities. Now this case is the avoided cost of building. So the argument is made but how we valued a lot of the services was to say, "Look, it's enormously expensive to build, to preserve some of these aspects – in other words, to preserve the coast, to preserve the fish."
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A new approach to valuing ecosystem services

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