The latest bi-annual report — Valuing Ireland’s Marine Ecosystem Services — was launched at the recent fifth annual Our Ocean Wealth Summit in Galway by Damien English, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development, and Seán Kyne, Minister of State for Natural Resources, Community Affairs, and Digital Development.
Marine ecosystem services are provided by the processes, functions and structure of the marine environment that directly or indirectly contribute to societal welfare, health and economic activities. These services are vital to ensuring blue growth in Ireland’s ocean economy, which was valued at €1.8 billion or approximately 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017.
Factoring marine ecosystem service values into ocean economy account frameworks may help to ensure a sustainable ‘blue economy’ for Ireland by making sure that growth in the ocean economy does not exceed the carrying capacity of the marine environment.
While the value of some of these goods, such as fishing and aquaculture, are somewhat easier to measure, the value of many other benefits — such as carbon sequestration, waste assimilation and marine-related recreation — are often not captured by a price in any established markets.
However, without incorporating these values into marine planning processes, these benefits may be ignored or underestimated leading perhaps to suboptimal decision making.
Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan welcomed the new report, commenting: “This assessment of Ireland’s marine ecosystem services and their value is an important step in incorporating ecosystem services into policy and decision making related to Ireland's marine and coastal zones.”
SEMRU director Dr Stephen Hynes added: “Blue growth is about fostering development in marine economic activities in such a manner that the long term ability of the marine environment to continue to provide ecosystem service benefits is not compromised.
“This is exactly what Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth: An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland is aimed at achieving. Knowing what those benefits are and what they are worth is vital for deciding on the best use of our marine resources and to ensure blue growth for our ocean economy far into the future.”
Commenting on the significance of the report, Dr Micheál Ó Cinnéide, director of the office of communications and corporate services at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said it “adds greatly to our understanding of the value of our marine province. Anybody who was able to see the marvellous RTÉ documentary on Ireland’s Deep Atlantic in 2018 and who follows the pioneering work of researchers in the Marine Institute, Galway and Cork can appreciate that we are unlocking the treasures of our offshore world.
“As this report shows, the true value has to include the natural capital, economic potential, cultural and spiritual values. The EPA and the Irish Forum on Natural Capital looks forward to a wider national debate on safeguarding this priceless marine ecosystem for future generations.”
Valuing Ireland’s Marine Ecosystem Services is based upon research supported by the EPA and is based on previous research conducted under the Marine Institute’s Beaufort Award.
Summary of economic contribution of marine ecosystem services:
- The provisioning marine ecosystem services of fisheries and aquaculture is estimated to be worth €473 million per annum to all fleets and producers operating in Irish waters.
- Seaweed harvesting is valued at €4 million and aquaculture at €150 million.
- The regulating and maintenance ecosystem services of carbon sequestration are valued at €815 million per annum, waste assimilation services €317 million and coastal defence services of €11.5 million.
- The cultural ecosystem services of scientific and educational services are valued at €11.5 million, and the added value per annum to housing stock of being at the coast (aesthetic services) is valued at €68 million. On an annual basis, recreational services provided by the marine ecosystems are estimated to have an economic value of €1.7 billion.
- Even though not all of the ecosystem services provided by the marine environment can be monetarised, the report indicates that the value of those that can is substantial.