Office Hour: Live Q&A on Marine Ecosystem Services – Linwood Pendleton Will Answer Your Questions

Event Date: 
2 Oct 2013

Sponsored by, Marine Ecosystems and Management, and the EBM Tools Network.

In this interactive 'Office Hour' chat on 2 October 2013, Linwood Pendleton took your questions on marine and coastal ecosystem services. Linwood also discussed outcomes from the August 2013 meeting in Bali of the Ecosystem Services Partnership.

Linwood directs the Marine Ecosystem Services Partnership, an online center for information and communication on the human uses of marine ecosystems around the world. He is also Director of Ocean and Coastal Policy at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and from 2011-2013 served as Acting Chief Economist for NOAA.

Recent publications by Linwood Pendleton on ecosystem services include:

Office Hour Archives

Linwood Pendleton: Hi From Woods Hole MA. I'm looking forward to our chat.

John Davis: Hi Linwood - thanks for doing this chat. What were the highlights/outcomes of the Ecosystem Services Partnership meeting in Bali this past August?

Linwood Pendleton: 3 ESP conferences ago there were only 3 of us that identified with "marine ecosystem services." In Bali we had more than 30 people. The biggest highlight as being able to organize all of our marine sessions into two afternoons of concurrent, nearly powerpoint free. We created a good network of folks including students, funders, decision-makers and scientists. From that we decided to develop a couple of LinkedIn subgroups to continue to share our conversations.

Question from J_Eccles: I'd like to know what the best geospatial data sources for ecosystem services are - are there large-scale repositories, or is it a lot of ad-hoc research/data storage?

Linwood Pendleton: There are a number of data repositories. I'm most familiar with marine ecosystem services. is a repository, a library really, of marine valuation studies organized by EEZ and ecosystem service. The MESP site works with other databases and partners that also are real databases, meaning they try to distill data from these studies. They include NOEP, Gecoserv, and others. There also are databases at Earth Economics and soon there will be IPBES-related data at WCMC.

Question from StevenLutz: Can you recommend any good resources that projects can use to value their marine services (on-line tools, PDF manuals, etc.)? Thanks

Linwood Pendleton: Hi Steven: There are a variety of tools that are emerging. Some, like the Earth Economics valuation tool kit help you choose among values in the literature. Other tools like InVEST and MIMES help link environmental and ecological change to valuation estimates and other measures of ecological outcome. They key with all of these tools is to make sure you, the user, understand what level of accuracy you need. You also need to make sure that you include the data that are most relevant to your question and don't wind up changing your question to be able to work with the data at hand.

Question from sshamir: Do you think ARIES can also fit to economic valuation of ecosystem services?

Linwood Pendleton: Yes, ARIES too!

Question from Guest173: Coastal carbon has not been included in the economic impact analysis of designating critical habitat for species listed under the ESA. Can you please give an example of how this would work - like for loggerhead sea turtle nesting beaches and in-water habitat in the Gulf and Atlantic?

Linwood Pendleton: Good question. As you know, economic analysis can't be used in determining whether or not to recover a species, but is considered in the initial determination of whether to list a species. In the past, economic consideration of listing usually focused on lost economic activity, but more widely interpreted, potential economic benefits from listing should also be considered - including carbon.

Question from Jeff Ardron: There has been a fair amount of expectation that ecosystem services could act as a conduit to express to business-oriented folks, including policy-makers, the 'value' of ecosystems. What are your thoughts about the strengths and limitations..? (Someone has to ask the big questions!)

Linwood Pendleton: Hi Jeff. As you know, there are different ways of quantifying the human impact of ecosystem services and different "values" associated with ecosystem services that can be quantified. In much of the rush to valuation, I think we naively believed that putting a monetary value on all types of ES would make them more understandable to business types. In fact, we've seen that many interested in business and how ES affects (local) economies are really interested in economic impacts (e.g. revenues, jobs, taxes) and not the consumer surplus measures valuation often provides. I also have seen cases in which we take a non-economic outcome associated with ecosystem services (e.g. lives saved) and make it relatively incomprehensible to the business community by putting a valuation estimate on it. This is precisely why the first thing I do when contemplating a valuation study is to ask: To Whom am I going to communicate this info and what are they going to do with.

Question from Guest628: Quite frankly, just the term "ecosystem services" causes me serious heartburn, especially when we need to be turning more toward the sacred to understand our roles and impacts on the natural world, not the business market.

Linwood Pendleton: Yes and no. When certain things fall into that category of sacred, we often confound the discussion by trying to estimate an existence value for it. So, on that point I think we agree. When the conversation, however, is about whether something like how should we weigh hunting versus wildlife viewing, it often is important to compare apples to apples. The is even more important when an activity, say wildlife viewing or surfing, may not generate obvious market benefits. In California, we see surfing getting short-shrift compared to recreational fishing because we don't have easily quantified statistics that show how surfing contributes to local economies. BUT, Chad Nelsen (and I) showed that surfers coming to Trestles both enjoy a large economic benefit from surfing (consumer surplus) and spend a lot of money locally.

Question from Guest828: In coastal areas, societies often must make difficult choices between economic development activities and risk-reducing conservation measures. Do you know of any examples of successful Payment of marine ecosystem services either at the pilot/developmental stage or fully operational?

Linwood Pendleton: Onereef is implementing conservation incentive agreements in Palau. CI has worked in this area too. Both efforts try to tie direct payments for maintaining environmental quality. Much of what is transpiring around blue carbon now seeks to do the same thing by tapping the carbon offset potential of salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrasses. The interesting thing about these coastal blue carbon payments would be that these payments would also include keeping carbon in the soils/sediments beneath these ecosystems. The best way of doing that, is to ensure that the ecosystems that keep the soil where it belongs are "resilient" ecosystems. PLUS, if you create financial capital at the end of the watershed that depends on healthy ecosystems there, it could cascade to the "carbon holder" paying upstream stakeholders to improve watershed management.

Question from Daniel: Hi Linwood, thanks for your time. I’ve seen a variety of good work on specific sets of ecosystem services but I would be interested in your thoughts on how comprehensive the current body of work is. I’m involved in marine planning and my instinctive approach is look at compiling an inventory of discrete ecosystem services for a particular plan area which would lead to prioritizing protection, valuation and sustainable use.

Linwood Pendleton: Hi Daniel: I'm not sure what you mean by "discrete" ecosystem services. But, this raises several interesting points. First, I think we too often think of (marine) ecosystem services as being discrete, when they clearly are not. They are dependent on each other in a number of ways. First, they are produced jointly. So, the amount of one ecosystem service available depends on another (or they both depend in some way on related ecosystem functions). Tools that let you change one ecosystem service output independently of others could be problematic if that does not reflect reality. Secondly, we know that the value people place on one ecosystem service depends on the degree to which they enjoy another. They are complementary. Back to surfing, a surfing day is worth more if you see dolphins while you are surfing. This issue is particularly important in analyzing marine uses. We used to assume that there were consumptive users and non-consumptive users. In the Channel Islands (CA), though, we found that most fishers also enjoyed non-consumptive activities. In fact, they would choose places to anchor that may have been inferior from a fishing perspective if that place also provided opportunities to see birds and swim/surf. (We meaning work I did with Chris LaFranchi and Christy Loper.)

Question from Pat Halpin: Do you have ideas on how we can more specifically link ecosystem services tied to a discrete marine locations to resource users located across multiple geographic locations and possibly multiple geographic scales?

Linwood Pendleton: Hi Pat: You are supposed to know how to do that! :-)

Pat Halpin: But I wanted to get your opinion

Linwood Pendleton: That said, this is critical, because where the ES are produced tells us almost nothing about who benefits. From a stakeholder perspective, failing to make the connection you describe can really muddy the waters. I suppose you could have different layers for local ES, regional ES, etc. This is something we've been thinking about for the Sargasso Sea where there are clearly local benefits (e.g. fishing and research), North America benefits (eels), European benefits (eels), sportfishing benefits (North Carolina), turtles ...

Question from m_pascual: Hi Linwood. Thanks for this very interesting chat we are all experiencing! My question to you is the following: what 5 research questions need to be answered in priority in the forthcoming years regarding marine ES? Many thanks!

Linwood Pendleton: Hmm. In no particular order:

  • What marine policies right now cry out for better information on ecosystem services. We need a prioritized global inventory of pressing policies.
  • What are the most basic elements of ecological functions (e.g. components of a coupled human-ecosystem understanding of marine ecosystem) are needed to answer the question of how human activities affect these ecosystem services.
    • We tend to try to model "marine ecosystems" in order to understand the relationship between human-caused pressures and ecosystem service outcomes, but the truth is that we rarely begin that modeling by asking what are the essential elements needed.
    • We can find ourselves spending time and money resolving scientific uncertainties that are irrelevant from a policy perspective. By that, I mean, our policy decision may not change with more data and science if it is not the right data and science.
  • What are the factors that inhibit the use of marine ecosystem services in decision making (this was a point raised by Yannick Beaudoin in Bali)?
    • This is critical for a variety of reasons. If the quantification of ES doesn't change behavior, then why do it?
  • Also, how do we get institutions and individuals more accustomed to using ES information? We tend to throw too much at the public too soon. Look at me, my work is sooo complex.
    • Instead, we need to come to grips with the fact that we are in this for the long haul and we need to start with measures of ES value that people relate to, trust, and are willing to incorporate into decision making. Then we can get more complex as we go along.
  • Finally, I think we spend far too much time modeling hypothetical ecosystem service outcomes, producing models that no one believes.
    • This has been the Achilles heal of communicating climate change and science.
    • I think we need major, long-term, integrated human and ecological research sites so we can develop a better (and more easily communicated) body of empirical knowledge so we can point to the cause and effect of policy and ecosystem service change and human impact.

Question from Guest-ABC: It sounds like salt marshes, mangroves, and bays even are included in Marine ES. How far up a coastal stream is still considered marine ecosystem services? It seems like streams are adding both positive & negative economic inputs to marine areas.

Linwood Pendleton: Of course, there is no meaningful line to draw in terms of how far upstream we need to go. That said, it is not necessarily true that all things upstream are equally important downstream. So, the key is identifying a more limited set of environmental factors or conditions where the connections are clear as a way of linking science and policy throughout the watershed.

Question from Peter Flournoy: It seems that humans are part of the ES, and when you categorize some stakeholders as the "business community you over simplify. Fishermen and their communities depend on healthy ecosystems. Their business is feeding people. Should not this have priority over endangered species (which the natural systems of the earth have been eliminating over thousands of years)? Thoughts?

Linwood Pendleton: Good question! I think Jeff was asking specifically about ES valuation as a way of engaging the business community. In fact, you want to keep the whole set of actors involved, but you have to ask yourself WHO IS MAKING THE DECISIONS THAT MATTER. The Balinese water temple example from the ESP conference is a great examples. You could try to change the behavior of 4 million Balinese by telling them how ecosystem services affect them or you could try to convince one high priest!

Question from Guest530: MPAs can provide ecological and economic benefits to populations. Other than contingent valuation, what tools can be used estimate the value the benefits for a potential MPA? Would it be possible to somehow combine the InVEST Habitat Risk Assessment model with an avoided damage/ cost valuation method?

Linwood Pendleton: The best way to value the potential benefits of an MPA is to have good data from existing MPAs! We don't spend enough time collecting data within and outside of MPAs, and before and after the implementation of MPAs. Even within an MPA, we are constantly changing and adjusting management within in the MPA and that, after all, is what we really want to value. So, if you have a reasonably large MPA or a network of MPAs with a mix of management within (no fishing here, some fishing there, diving over here) AND you collect good data ecological conditions AND on uses (and values) you can start to empirically show how different management activities affect the ecosystem and people.

John Davis: Hi everyone - John Davis, OpenChannels supervisor here. Thank you for all your questions! This was a really productive chat! And a big thank you to Linwood for taking the time to answers so many of your queries. If you had a question that was not answered, I encourage you to go to the MESP website at or track down Linwood at the upcoming IMPAC3 meeting this month. Thanks!

Linwood Pendleton: Thanks everyone. Also, please sign up for the MESP newsletter (send an email to info [at] and our LinkedIn Group.

Audience questions which we didn't get to

Guest530: Do you have any good resources for conducting a benefit transfer exercise? Many studies not that their can be significant error in transferring values if corrections for demographics etc. aren't made.

StevenLutz: Are there good case studies you can recommend that demonstrate the valuation of coastal ES resulting in improved ecosystem management?

Tobias: What is your take on emergy analysis, ecological economics, environmental accounting, and environmental engineering as pioneered by H.T. Odum vs. R. Costanza? They have two very different approaches, one based on energy as the "currency" the other based on dollars? Since the financial system in its entirety is clearly broken, what should the next generation of decision tools be based on?

Guest828: Any tips for addressing the free-rider problem in marine coastal areas?

Guest530: Would you have any recommendations on how to value the benefits of MPAs that are not in place yet if we have estimates of the biophysical impacts that will take place.

sshamir: Are you familiar with policy that take into account preservation of keystone species in marine ecosystem?

Guest530: Generally speaking, can a preliminary valuation be conducted if there's incomplete ecological information e.g. environmental condition, area of coverage available?

Hassan: Thanks for this opportunity,are there other approaches in valuing mangrove associated fisheries other than the production approach?

Guest434: Is there a good source for data from existing MPAs?


Reply to Tobias. My take is that ‘emergy analysis’ has a lot to offer in terms of the valuation of ecosystem services . Some emergy analysts have with some success tried to apply emergy concepts to ecosystem services – if interested I can send you some references appear interested – you can e-mail me m.g.patterson [at] The reason I say that ‘emergy analysis’is useful is because it picks up on ecological processes and/or species that are often ignored by methods such as contingent valuation which are more human centred. Emergy analysis could be argued to be a more biophysical measure of value (although some economists would argue that the very term biophysical value ‘is a bit of an oxymoron). Biophysical methods of valuation quantify how different species and processes to contribute to each other, via interdependencies on ecosystem. At the recent ESP conference, it was regrettably very little discussion of biophysical methods of valuation. I'm involved in the emergy analysis committee to some extent – I saw no one else (other than myself) who actually attended the most recent biennial emergy analysis conference and the ESP conference – which is telling. You mention HT Odum versus Bob Costanza. It is interesting to note that the early work of Bob Costanza in the early 1980s, used by biophysical methods of valuation (pricing) which implied values from energy and mass flows in ecological systems – these methods were very closely aligned to HT Odum's work. Not sure how Bob Costanza now sees as early work in the 1980s (based on biophysical measures) in relation to his co-authored 1997 paper which was clearly based on monetary (neoclassical economics) methods.

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