changing uses and values of marine ecosystem services in the Norwegian Arctic

Use and values of marine ecosystem services are changing, caused by not only climate but also global changes. This interdisciplinary research project rooted in economics, with contributions from natural and social science, aims to investigate how global changes and human activities affect the use and importance of ecosystem services (ES) spatially and across groups of people.

MarES wishes to look upon this with a focus on Norway where, for example, global increase in demand for (rare) minerals have renewed commercial interests in coastal deposits in the northernmost part of the country, and the rise in sea temperature makes aquaculture in northern sea areas more attractive. Likewise, MarES wishes to provide data and knowledge to aid decision makers in optimal allocation of scarce fish resources among competing user groups.



Marine ecosystem services are under increasing pressure from competing human uses, such as aquaculture, shipping, energy production, conservation, fishing, tourism and recreation. Climate change causing sea level rise and warming put additional pressures on these systems, but also cause spatial redistribution and thus change in commercial and other human activities. With these changes there is a need for new knowledge and new management approaches. Traditionally, national, regional and local agencies have managed marine resources sector-by-sector, with little focus on connections between and within human and ecological systems. Trade-offs arising from management choices in each of these sectors change the distribution of ecosystem services and cause conflicts among users. For example, a fish species like the Norwegian coastal cod, is crucial for commercial coastal fisheries, marine fishing tourism and domestic recreational fisheries. Currently, commercial fisheries are managed separately, whereas tourism and recreational fishing are little monitored and insufficiently regulated.

In a changing world, where non-market ecosystem services become increasingly important for our welfare, we need management systems taking into consideration ecological interactions between the ecosystem services  that are of crucial importance for social welfare, including non-market ecosystem services .


Recognizing the need for more effective management of marine resources, efforts to implement ecosystem-based management (EBM) is on the rise. A core component of EBM is its strong emphasis on the marine ES, the myriad of benefits that people  and industries obtain from marine resources. They include various provisioning services such as food (e.g. wild and farmed fish), supporting and regulating services (e.g. primary production and nutrient circulation) and a range of cultural services (e.g. recreation, tourism, education and spiritual well-being). The oceans and coastal areas also provide abiotic services such as minerals and energy. Implementation of EBM requires an understanding of the production of marine ES; how human activities rely on and affect these services; and how to assess their value.

The latter is necessary for making trade-offs among various human uses, including both conservation and economic development, in specific areas. The ES concept provides a tool for understanding the connection between the natural environment, including natural resources, and human welfare, and it enables the development of more adaptive management models. Many decisions regarding natural resource utilization hinge on the question of how people value resources and how such values can inform trade-offs for decision makers. Amending the decision-support tool cost-benefit analysis (CBA) by including monetized and non-monetized effects on ES will make it a more useful tool for decision-making. Similarly, including non-use (conservation) values in bio-economic models enables a wider set of preferences to count in the allocation of fish stocks. Both applications enables more science-based and transparent decision-making, and provides a measure for finding efficient and fair solutions.


Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being. They support directly or indirectly our survival and quality of life. Ecosystem services can be categorized in following main types:

Provisioning services are the products obtained from ecosystems such as food, fresh water, wood, fiber, genetic resources and medicines.

Regulating services are defined as the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes such as climate regulation, natural hazard regulation, water purification and waste management, pollination or pest control.

Habitat services highlight the importance of ecosystems to provide habitat for migratory species and to maintain the viability of gene-pools.

Supporting services are services that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services. Some examples include biomass production, production of atmospheric oxygen, soil formation and retention, nutrient cycling, water cycling, and provisioning of habitat.

Cultural services include non-material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems such as spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation and aesthetic values, including, e.g., knowledge systems, social relations, and aesthetic values.


Ecosystem functions are the physical, chemical, and biological processes or attributes that contribute to the self-maintenance of an ecosystem; in other words, what the ecosystem does. Some examples of ecosystem functions are provision of wildlife habitat, carbon cycling, or the trapping of nutrients.  Thus, ecosystems, such as wetlands, forests, or estuaries, can be characterized by the processes, or functions, that occur within them.

Ecosystem services are the beneficial outcomes, for the natural environment or people, that result from ecosystem functions. Some examples of ecosystem services are support of the food chain, harvesting of animals or plants, and the provision of clean water or scenic views.  In order for an ecosystem to provide services to humans, some interaction with, or at least some appreciation by, humans is required. Thus, functions of ecosystems are value-neutral, while their services have value to society.

Marine ecosystem services are goods and services from the sea and coast that contribute to human welfare. Typical examples of marine ecosystem services are fish, marine mammals, and shellfish. Other marine ecosystem services include fishing trips and diving. A third form of services provided by the sea is that it provides for biodegradation of biological waste that accompanies sewage and sewage, and fjords can serve as landfills

Eventhough ecosystem valuation can be a difficult and controversial task, and economists have often been criticized for trying to put a “pricetag” on nature.  However, agencies in charge of protecting and managing natural resources must often make difficult spending decisions that involve tradeoffs in allocating resources.  These types of decisions are economic decisions, and thus are based, either explicitly or implicitly, on society’s values. Therefore, economic valuation can be useful, by providing a way to justify and set priorities for programs, policies, or actions that protect or restore ecosystems and their services.


Monetary ecosystem service valuation, is seen within some marine ecosystem services that are traded in markets and can be valued in monetary terms based on market prices (e.g. farmed fish and tourism). Other ecosystem services have no market prices, and can only be valued by use of non-market valuation methods. Such methods include revealed preference (RP), stated preference (SP), and deliberative monetary valuation (DMV) methods, and benefit transfer (BT). Revealed preference methods use observational data on decisions people make in markets and as such only capture use-values. Stated preference methods use data generated from surveys eliciting people’s contingent preferences in constructed (hypothetical) market scenarios. Some stated preference methods have been extended to include information provision and time to think and discuss in the felicitation of peoples’ contingent preferences. These are often denoted deliberative monetary valuation, and are developed to meet objections to the standard stated preference methods that people do not necessarily have fixed preferences for goods and services, especially not for ecosystem services with which they are unfamiliar. Rather, they need to inform such preferences over time and through information provision and deliberation. A third group of (secondary) valuation methods is benefit transfer. Benefit transfer uses value information from existing studies or meta-data extracted from the literature to transfer to a relevant policy context in need of such information. While the valuation methods have been tried and tested for many years, there is a lack of ecosystem service valuation studies that are specifically designed for decision support, cost-benefit analysis and bio-economic modelling. Moving research into resolving both methodological and practical challenges in ecosystem service valuation is seen as an important frontier of ecosystem service research.

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Non-monetary ecosystem services valuation, methods do not rely on monetary metrics or market logics, but examine the fundamental needs and importance people attach to ecosystem services. The term socio-cultural values defined as: “the importance people, as individuals or as a group, assign to (bundles of) ecosystem services”, is emerging as a unifying term in this field of research. Socio-cultural values are conceptually different from cultural ecosystem services by acknowledging that people do not separate between non-material and material benefits when valuing nature. This distinction is crucial for analyzing the intangible local and indigenous values in the Arctic, where consuming and harvesting wild food or “contact with nature” are fundamentally important for residents’ personal and cultural well-being beyond their provisional benefits. Thinking in terms of co-benefits assigned to species or ecosystem features (i.e. bundles) relax the need to separate between the nutritional, recreational or the broader meaning that people ascribe to harvest activities. Spatial explicit participatory mapping of ecosystem services could fill in knowledge gaps of socio-cultural values by: i) instrumental approaches for 3 spatial value transfer and quantitative analysis of spatial priorities, or by consultative or non-monetary deliberative approaches.


The use of ecosystem services values in cost-benefit analysis and bio-economic modelling can be a crucial tool for sustainable management of marine environments. Cost-benefit analysis measure societal costs and benefits of alternative scenarios of ecosystem services utilization in relation to baselines that are quantified in physical terms, and to the extent possible, valued in monetary terms. Diverse cost and benefit categories can then be compared. Bio-economic models are used to determine the optimal harvest of one, or two interacting (fish) species, and the output is the long-term sustainable harvest of the species given economic measures as price and harvest costs.

Current cost-benefit analysis’s and bio-economic models only exceptionally include monetary ecosystem services values and non-monetized ecosystem services that convey welfare relevant information. Integrating monetary and non-monetary values associated with ecosystem services into a hybrid cost-benefit analysis framework and extended bio-economic models is both a management and politics need, as well as a research challenge.

Critics further add that for cost-benefit analysis and bio-economic models to be more relevant to actual decision-making, a more explicit focus on distributional issues and stakeholder involvement is needed to better understand who wins and who loses in decision-making and the underlying conflicts that influence peoples’ choices. Increased emphasis on equity issues has been recommended in the revised guidelines of the Norwegian Expert Committee on cost-benefit analysis, while equity issues are largely ignored in bio-economic modelling. If the cost-benefit analysis framework and bio-economic models can be amended in these ways, it can be useful in structuring, reviewing and analysing welfare implications of various ecosystem services uses, and serve as a basis to analyse trade-offs between different ecosystem services uses over time and across geography and stakeholder groups.

That is why MarES wishes to investigate how global changes and human activities affect the use and importance of ecosystem services (ES) spatially and across groups of people, as well as deliver improved tools for decision-making on trade-offs between different uses of marine ecosystem services spatially and across stakeholders.

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