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What matters to whom and why?: Understanding the importance of coastal ecosystem services in developing coastal communities

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/02/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Ecosystem Services
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)219-230
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date9/01/19
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Coastal ecosystems support the livelihoods and wellbeing of millions of people worldwide. However, the marine and terrestrial ecosystem services that coastal ecosystems provide are particularly vulnerable to global environmental change, as are the coastal communities who directly depend on them. To navigate these changes and ensure the wellbeing of coastal communities, policy-makers must know which coastal ecosystem services matter to whom, and why. Yet, in developing coastal settings, capturing people's perceptions of the importance of ecosystem services is challenging for several reasons. Firstly, coastal ecosystem services encompass both terrestrial and marine services across multiple categories (i.e. provisioning, supporting, and cultural) that are difficult to value together. Secondly, widely used monetary valuation techniques are often inappropriate because of culturally specific attributions of value, and the intangible nature of key cultural ecosystem services. Thirdly, people within communities may hold different ecosystem services values. In this paper, we examine how people ascribe and explain the importance of a range of marine and terrestrial ecosystem services in three coastal communities in Papua New Guinea. We use a mixed-methods approach that combines a non-monetary ranking and rating assessment of multiple ecosystem services, with a socio-economic survey (N = 139) and qualitative explanations of why ecosystem services matter. We find that people uniformly ascribe the most importance to marine and terrestrial provisioning services that directly support their livelihoods and material wellbeing. However, within communities, gender, wealth, and years of formal schooling do shape some differences in how people rate ecosystem services. In addition, although cultural ecosystem services were often rated lower, people emphasized that they ranked provisioning services highly, in part, because of their contribution to cultural values like bequest. People also expressed concern about extractive ecosystem services, like fuelwood, that were perceived to be destructive, and were rated low. We contend that comprehensive ecosystem services assessments that include narratives can capture the broad importance of a range of ecosystem services, alongside relational values and normative judgements. This exploratory approach is a useful step towards understanding the complexities of ecosystem services in developing coastal settings.