In an increasingly urbanized, technologically complex and consumption-driven society, it's easy to lose sight of the advantages and benefits to be realized, as well as our fundamental reliance on, ecosystems and the services they provide.
Yet even as our preoccupation with jobs, economic growth and development has continued to intensify, we've been gaining greater understanding, and appreciation, of the value of ecosystems and ecosystem services -- not just in terms of environmental health and safety, but for their economic and broader social value as well.
On April 9, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Oxfam America released, “The Economic Case for Restoring Coastal Ecosystems,” a report that highlights the remarkable economic value and benefits realized by coastal ecosystem restoration projects carried out right here in the U.S.
“We learned in a nutshell that there’s a win-win, if not a win-win-win, opportunity that presents itself when you invest in conservation. The economic benefits are remarkable … there’s a direct connection between what we’re doing to enhance the environment and what we’re doing to enhance economic opportunity.”
Analyzing data on three coastal ecosystem restoration projects on different U.S. coasts, the project team found that for every $1 million invested in carrying out the projects:
The net 15:1 economic return and other benefits of these coastal ecosystem restoration projects flowed directly through from improved fish stocks, “due to the fact that 75 percent of the U.S.' most important commercial fish species relay on coastal environments at some point in their life cycle, with many young fish and crustaceans using habitats such as oyster reefs as nurseries,” CAP and Oxfam America point out.
“Coastal wetlands, along with serving as essential habitats for many species, help buffer coastal communities from strong storm surges by soaking up seawater...[U]p to 60 percent of the damage done to Gulf Coast communities from hurricanes happens because there aren’t healthy barrier ecosystems in place.”
“Many of these ecosystems also serve as major carbon sinks, thus helping mitigate climate change as well as helping protect communities from its effects — coastal sea grass, for instance, stores more carbon dioxide per square kilometer than forests do.”
Louisiana loses an area of land the size of a football field every hour as a result of the construction of levees and dams along these rivers, they note. As a result, sediment that builds up and strengthens coastal marshes, and provides nutrients to the animal and plant life in these habitats, is being withheld. That alters the dynamics of these ecosystems and leaves them more susceptible to storm surges and sea level rise.
“We need to do a better job of helping people understand what is happening to our coastlines in aggregate, over time. We gain big when we conserve and restore coastal habitats — this is a no-brainer,” Schaefer stated.
Images courtesy of the CAP-Oxfam America study
An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.