The Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Damien English TD, and Minister for Natural Resources, Community Affairs, and Digital Development Seán Kyne, launched the latest report, Valuing Ireland's Marine Ecosystem Services by NUI Galway's Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit (SEMRU), at the 5th Annual Ocean Wealth Conference, held as part of Ireland's national maritime festival 'SeaFest' last weekend.
To date, SEMRU has produced bi-annual reports on the direct economic value of Ireland's ocean economy, valued at €1.8 billion or approximately 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. This new research however, focuses on the ecosystem service benefits that society receives from Ireland's marine environment.
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 the ocean economy.
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 fish 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.
The Marine Institute welcomed publication of the report on Ireland's marine ecosystem service benefits with Dr Peter Heffernan, CEO, Marine Institute, 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."
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 monetarized the report indicates that the value of those that can is substantial.
Dr Stephen Hynes, Director of SEMRU in the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway, said: "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."
Until recently, very little information was available in relation to the value of the many services provided by the marine environment; services such as carbon sequestration, waste assimilation, coastal defence, aesthetic services and recreational opportunities that are provided by our marine ecosystems have by and large gone unvalued. Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth: An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland highlights as a key action the need for further research into generating "economic values of marine biodiversity and ecosystem services to ensure best practice planning and management of the ocean resource". This report is a first step at filling this research gap.
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, said: "This latest report from the two Galway based research clusters in NUI Galway and GMIT adds greatly to our understanding of the value of our Marine province. Anybody who was able to see the marvellous RTE 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."
The Valuing Ireland's Marine Ecosystem Services report is based upon research supported by the Irish Environment Protection Agency under Grant Award No. 2014-NC-MS-1 and on previous research conducted under the Marine Institute Beaufort Award.
The full report is available to download online at: www.nuigalway.ie/semru/publications.html
The technical version of the report is available at: http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/research/water/Research_Report_239.pdf