7: Value nature: it’s money in your pocket
Fish and wildlife are a source of income as people pay to watch them or harvest them, and the ecosystem itself helps us by filtering toxins and preventing flooding. When you think of the ecosystem like a bank account, putting money into to improve it is a no-brainer; it is like adding capital to your account.
On the water activities like kayaking and whale-watching generate 80% of all dollars spent annually on tourism and recreation in Washington State. Photo: J. Gaydos
Economics is the allocation of limited resources among alternative, competing ends; it is about what people want, and what they are willing to give up in exchange.
Human well-being is derived from access to and often the marketing of essential ecological goods and services provided by ecosystems. These include fossil fuels, minerals, wood, fish, meat, edible plants, watchable wildlife, biofiltration of contaminants and a multitude of other ecological "inputs." While higher values of waterfront properties are considered luxuries, most ecological goods and services are considered basic needs for human survival.
Despite the complexities of economic globalization, healthy ecosystems support economic prosperity and well-being. The Salish Sea provides the people who live in the region with abundant natural capital which contributes substantially to the financial prosperity of the region.
In Washington alone, marine fish and invertebrates support commercial fisheries worth $3.2 billion a year; the ports of Seattle and Tacoma enable over $70 billion in international trade; and on the water activities such as sailing, kayaking, whale-watching, and SCUBA diving generate 80% of all dollars spent on tourism and recreation in the state every year.
Healthy ecosystems support economic prosperity. Unhealthy systems cost money to repair and in lost opportunity to benefit from the natural capital. Overharvesting, pollution, and loss of wild habitat reduce the quality and quantity of ecosystem services and ultimately the economic potential of a region. Fecal coliform contamination of nearshore waters closed a third of Washington’s $97 million shellfish beds to harvest in one year alone.
In the Salish Sea, ecosystem services provided by higher trophic species like salmon and killer whales, which generally disappear before those provided by species lower in the food chain, are decreasing. The cumulative economic and ecosystem services losses associated with the depletion of these higher trophic species is incalculable, but likely astronomical.
When appropriately balanced, ecosystem services can be used to simultaneously advance conservation and human needs, as has been shown with projects like Quito, Equador’s Water Fund, China’s Sloping Lands Program, Kenya’s Il’Ngwesi Ecolodge, and Namibia’s Conservancy Program.
A healthy Salish Sea that provides services such as plentiful and safe fish and shellfish, clean water, and natural resource-dependent industries is money in our pockets. Ecosystem services provide revenue from the marine-based industries that are the lifeblood of the region’s economy, and mean less spent on major repairs to reverse ecological damage.
Decision-makers and citizens working to restore ecosystems around the world need to grasp nature’s economic benefits or they will grossly underestimate the full benefits of a restored ecosystem while overestimating the relative costs of restoring it.