MSP application of ecosystem services valuation tools

Blogger picture

As a Project Fellow at SeaPlan, I am interested in the conversation among MSP practitioners over the pragmatic utility of ecosystem services tools for “real life” application. I recently looked at the role of modeling tools and platforms that quantitatively categorize zones or ecosystems services in ocean planning. This research led me to develop a broad overview of available valuation modeling tools and to detail some interesting example applications. I thought others would be interested, so SeaPlan is sharing them here as a series of three short case studies followed by the overview. First in this series is a case study summarizing how two of the most widely-used modeling tools, InVEST and Marxan, were applied by West Coast Aquatic (WCA) for the West Vancouver Island marine spatial plans.

West Coast Aquatic marine spatial plans (MSP) for West Vancouver Island

West Coast Aquatic (WCA) took an integrated, ecosystem-based approach in developing regional marine spatial plans for the west coast of Vancouver Island by bringing together multiple sectors, uses, and levels of government. WCA began with a 4-year process working with the Natural Capital Project using the InVEST tool followed by use of Marxan under the guidance of the British Columbia Marine Conservation Analysis. These efforts have resulted in draft pilot plans for Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds intended to inform broader scale plans for the entire west coast of Vancouver Island.


  • 2008 – 2012: InVEST modeling; 2012 – Present: Marxan analysis
  • April 2015 – December 2015: Sector and First Nations reviews of draft plans
  • Early 2016: Draft plans released for public review; aim is for final completed plans in March 2016
  • After completion: annual updates to the Map Atlas, initial review of MSP in 5 years, with subsequent reviews (tentatively) every 7 years

Marine Spatial Planning Process

The MSP process for West Vancouver Island intends to advance commitments under Canada’s Oceans Act, but is not legally binding. WCA set out seven coastal strategy goals for this region: healthy and abundant species and habitat; economic development and diversification; awareness, knowledge, skills and technology; safe waterways and modern infrastructure; governments, communities, and businesses working together; vibrant communities, recreation, and culture; and monitoring, enforcement, and adaptive management. The two pilot MSPs for Barkley Sound and Clayoquot Sound consisted of planning units, ranging in size from 3 km2 to 180 km2. Each planning unit was designated with a management emphasis of community, conservation, or integrated marine, and the range of uses within each unit were categorized as Recommended, Conditionally Recommended, or Not Recommended.

InVEST modeling

InVEST is an open-source software tool with 18 different models that enables stakeholders and decision makers to quantify tradeoffs associated with alternative management choices; the spatially explicit outputs identify Ecologically Significant Areas (ESA) of ecosystem benefits. Ecosystem services examined for WCA included seafood harvest, recreation and tourism, coastal protection, and cultural services. At least 22 biophysical and economic valuation models compared alternative scenarios and zoning combinations (2x9 at the local level, and 2x2 at the sound level) with the spatial scale/extent varying from 10 km2 to 100 km2. The outputs of the InVEST models considered three scenario options:

  • Baseline: no changes to current uses or zoning
  • Conservation: restrict float homes and aquaculture near eelgrass beds
  • Industry Expansion: expand float home leases and oyster tenures, permit geoduck harvesting

Zoning of Lemmens Inlet as an ESA to test four InVEST models for shellfish aquaculture, recreation, habitat risk assessment, and water quality, resulted in the following modeled outputs for the conservation scenario:

  • 18% increase in the value of the 2011 shellfish harvest
  • 57% gain in the extent of kayaking routes, but the loss of four float homes
  • 75% decrease in habitat risk with a 32% increase in relative water quality

Marxan Analysis

Marxan allows a user to identify and designate zones for protection that meet specific biodiversity or ecological criteria, satisfy desired spatial requirements, include data on ecological processes and services, and incorporate tradeoffs between conservation and socio-economic objectives. The resolution scale of this zoning was 100 meters, and the model incorporated 178 marine ecological features including physical or abiotic marine, plants, invertebrates, fish, birds, marine mammals, and local knowledge. This modeling also took into account 61 marine human use features including aquaculture, fishing, forestry, marine infrastructure, shipping and transportation, tenures (for utilities and marine industries), and parks and protected areas. The features were categorized as either representative, productive, special, or restoration with an accompanying target range of protection.