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Developing the Next Suite of Tools for Setting Quantifiable Habitat Objectives: Salt Marsh and Seagrass Ecosystem Service Values


Tools for Ecosystem Service Values of Seagrass and Salt Marshes Report The Nature Conservancy

Developing the Next Suite of Tools for Setting Quantifiable Objectives for Habitat Management: Advancing our capabilities to estimate ecosystem service values for salt marsh and seagrass habitat


Executive Summary

Coastal marine habitats provide a diverse array of ecosystem services, such as providing habitat for nursery and foraging fish, sequestering carbon, stabilizing shorelines and reducing erosion, and removing excess nitrogen. Efforts to integrate ecosystem services benefits into decision-making require a more detailed, targeted approach focusing on socio‐economic drivers for sustainable use, protection and restoration of ecosystems. Central to this approach is locally accurate, spatially explicit quantification of ecosystem services using metrics that can be understood, utilized and provided at scales relevant to decision-makers. Detailed, evidence‐based and spatially explicit values for ecosystem benefits produced and delivered in a clear and useful way, will lead to major changes in how ecosystems are viewed and utilized by multiple sectors.

This document is intended to describe the ‘state of the science’ for developing the applications for quantifying various ecosystem services derived from salt marsh and seagrass habitats in the U.S. and Caribbean region, that can be applied to relatively fine (bay or estuary) spatial scales. Ecosystem services discussed include fisheries enhancement from the nursery function of these habitats, habitat enhanced denitrification, carbon sequestration and coastal protection. A methodological approach is described for estimating regionally specific fisheries production from structured nursery habitats. A comprehensive review of empirical studies that can be incorporated into this fisheries production model from seagrass and salt marsh habitats is presented. This review of eligible empirical studies serves two purposes: First, it serves as an analytical tool to compare and understand the data availability and data needs of sub-regions of the U.S. and Caribbean, for each of the two habitat types. Secondly it is the initial step in producing the fisheries production models and quantification estimates, where data availability permits.
For each of the remaining three ecosystem services; denitrification, carbon sequestration, and coastal protection, the document presents a review of empirical studies. The results of the review are used to address common questions such as: Is there enough existing scientific information to build similar applications as to the one being proposed for fish production? Where does the empirical data exist by geography and habitat type? Which ecosystem services show promise for cooperatively tackling in the short-term, or where does the science need to be further developed? These are the types of analysis required to inform government, non-governmental agencies, and academics as to what our collective priorities and next steps need to be in order to significantly advance our ability to produce spatially-explicit, quantitative ecosystem service estimates. These estimates can then be applied to serve in various applications such as habitat restoration goal-setting, or applying ecosystem service credit for conservation actions.