Ecosystem Services and Sea Level Rise

Ecosystem services are the various benefits (goods and services) that humans receive from natural systems such as estuaries, wetlands, and forests. These services are often undervalued and taken for granted. The international Millennium Ecosystem Assessment identified four categories of ecosystem services: provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual and recreational benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling that maintain the conditions for life on Earth.

Sea level rise is threatening ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, storm surge protection, water quality treatment, and fisheries. For example, coastal marshes and estuaries provide habitat and nurseries for many species, including those important for the ecological food chain and human consumption through fishing and shellfish harvesting. As sea level rises, if the marshes retreat without suitable areas for new marshes, fisheries and wildlife will diminish. This will impact the local economy and quality of life. The potential negative impacts of sea level rise on ecosystem services, and consequently coastal communities, makes it critical to begin planning for future changes now.

The GTM Research Reserve recognizes the importance of ecosystem services to the local people and economies, and the importance of estimating the dollar value of the services. Reserve researchers have determined that the estuaries, marshes, swamps, forests, and marine areas of the Reserve currently provide $246 million per year of ecosystem services. One avenue of new research could be to identify how this value will be affected by sea level rise under different planning scenarios.

The video below shows in more detail the ecosystem services of the GTM Research Reserve.

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