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November 12, 2013

Empty nets – the value of no fish

BY: Peter Pierrou


© OCEANA / Carlos Suárez


Last week the cream of the crop of Baltic Sea experts met in Stockholm to discuss how to put a price on the services that our ecosystems provide. Scientists, researchers, foundations, authorities and NGOs – everybody was asked to put their view forward.

The concept of ecosystem services have been around for quite a while, but in the last couple of years it has risen to become somewhat of an “it-thing” among Baltic Sea region environmentalists.

You want proof?

According to one of the organizers, scientist Marcus Öhman, about five different seminars on the topic were going on in Stockholm at roughly the same time. So what’s all the fuss about?

Ecosystem services are goods that nature provides, including for example, food,  energy resources, or regulating services such as pollination or climate control. Did you know that the oceans of the world store approximately half of the carbon dioxide humans have produced? That’s quite an effective filtration tool.

The idea behind the ecosystem services approach is to think of nature as a system that’s linked together, and where the different parts are dependent on each other. So instead of just studying fish, or algae blooms, you should look at how they are connected, and understand that if you disturb one part of nature then another might be affected.

The aim of the meeting was also to discuss valuation – how do you put a price on ecosystem services? Since money is the universal language these days, setting a monetary value on the services of nature could help convince businesses and companies about the importance of taking care of our oceans. So, instead of just counting the dollar bills for every fish caught, the ecosystem services approach argues that you should put a price on the fish that are not caught.

One of the participants at the gathering, who was representing a bank, said he wanted to see some hard numbers: “How much is nature worth?” Not unexpectedly, the main message from the scientists was that “we need to do more studies” in order to present more specific numbers. And while that might be the case – as there is certainly a need for a common voice and terminology around the issues of the Baltic Sea, since many people, and even the media, still can’t point them all out – one shouldn’t forget the fact that the Baltic is one of the most researched bodies of water in the world.

So why not try and transform all that science and knowledge into actual action and change the way we treat our ecosystems. There will also most certainly be a buck or two to be made along the way.