Marine ecosystems provide essential services that people value and benefit from – for example: food, recreation, jobs, transportation, wildlife viewing or just opportunities for rest and relaxation. When conflicts arise over which services are more important (e.g. when whale migration routes cross cost-effective shipping channels), how do managers make informed decisions? Because these are value-based decisions, visualizing and discussing potential tradeoffs is vital to effective ecosystem-based marine spatial planning.
In this pilot study, MOP is collaborating with teams of researchers, practitioners and stakeholders to further develop tradeoff modeling and visualization tools for use in marine spatial planning and resource management decision making. Using northern Massachusetts Bay as the study area, data and models will be developed to analyze the potential ecosystem service tradeoffs from different management scenarios. Once the pilot study is completed, MOP will look for opportunities to expand these models or apply them to other locations.
As evident in the map below, the MA coastal environment is highly used for various commercial and recreational activities. Some uses and activities are compatible, while others have direct spatial and/or temporal conflicts. This lends to the importance of understanding where and when activities are occurring, the nature of existing conflicts, and the potential for new proposed uses of the ocean (alternative energy projects, LNG facilities, aquaculture projects).
(Credits: K. Lagueux, New England Aquarium)
Role in Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning
Ecosystem service tradeoff models integrate biological, physical, social and economic information to enhance informed decision making—they are essential tools for integrated, ecosystem-based marine spatial planning. The information collected from this study will promote collaborative decision making by illustrating the tradeoffs in ecosystem services and the resulting effects on different human uses under various management scenarios. These types of tools do not make decisions for managers; rather they clarify and inform the difficult decisions that managers will have to make as we continue to expand our use of the ocean.
Challenges & Applications
Further work is needed to define the extent and social and economic value of key ecosystem services. Current ecosystem and socio-economic data may initially limit tradeoff modeling, but development of these models will inform the prioritization of data needs. Once developed these tools are widely applicable, from site specific work to state and regional planning.
Ecosystem Service tradeoff models help stakeholders, managers, policy makers and others see the potential effects of management decision options (by running ‘what if’ scenarios) and thus make better informed choices.