Report on the first MERCES webinar
The first MERCES webinar “Getting Better Value from Our Coasts” took place on 15 February 2018. This was part of MERCES Deliverable D8.3. The webinar was organised by Eva Ramirez-Llodra (Norwegian Institute for Marine research, NIVA) and moderated by David Billett (Deep Seas Environmental Solutions Ltd, DSES). The webinar started with a brief introduction of the MERCES project and the MERCES Business Club, followed by 2 presentations. The webinar lasted 1 hour.
There were two talks by 1) Dr Scott Cole,EnviroEconomics Sweden Consultancyon “Valuing Multiple Eelgrass Ecosystem Services” and 2) Prof Johan van der Koppel (Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, NIOZ) on “Using 3D Computer graphics to convey restoration goals to decision makers and the general public”. EnviroEconomics Sweden is a member of the MERCES Business Club and Prof van der Koppel leads MERCES WP2.
Experience from previous webinars hosted by the Marine Ecosystem Services Partnership (MESP), co-organisers of the MERCES webinar, had shown that two talks of 20 minutes each was the best approach, allowing for a 20-minute discussion at the end. As a matter of policy, we selected one speaker from a member company in the MERCES Business Club and one from the MERCES project partnership.
The MERCES webinar was promoted through GRID Arendal, Norway, which possesses the necessary ZOOM software for holding webinars for up to 100 participants. The ZOOM software worked well and allowed a record to be made of those registering for the webinar, who attended and how long they remained online. A practice session was held with the two speakers and with GRID Arendal in advance of the official webinar in order to iron out any potential problems and to make sure the systems used remotely by the speakers were functioning correctly. GRID Arendal streamed the webinar concurrently on ZOOM and YouTube.
The webinar was advertised through contacts made by the MERCES Business Club, MERCES partnership (including targeted dissemination efforts made by HCMR, Partner 3), GRID Arendal, the Commonwealth Secretariat, London, the Marine Research Information Network on Biodiversity, the EuroMarine Network and various coastal management networks in the USA.
Scott Cole highlighted that 60% of eelgrass in NW Sweden has been lost since the 1980s (up to 15,000 hectares). Dr Cole addressed how we can quantify what has been lost noting that failure to value Nature can become costly and quoting Pavan Sukdev “We use Nature because she is valuable; we lose Nature because she is free”. There is a need to put a price on Nature and what it really costs when we lose it. Taking seagrass meadows as a test case Dr Cole described the various ecosystem functions found in eelgrass beds, the ecosystem services these functions underpin, who benefits from these services, and how converting the benefits to monetary values allows an assessment to be made of what is lost from our pockets per hectare of meadow and, as a corollary, what might be gained through ecosystem restoration.
Eelgrass meadows have a number of key ecosystem functions: primary production, secondary production for benthic organisms and fish, contaminant filtration, sediment trapping, oxygen production, nutrient regulation, wave and current damping, seed production and habitat for unique self-sustaining assemblages. These translate into a number of ecosystem services, such as support of shellfish and fish populations, climate mitigation through carbon sequestration, contaminant regulation, eutrophication mitigation, erosion control, protection against storm surges and flooding, providing recreational amenities, enhancing biodiversity and as an education and scientific research resource. From the ecosystem services arise a number of benefits such as food (fish, shellfish) recreational swimming, sports fishing, protection of property and farmland, cosmetic products, improving physical and mental health and ecological knowledge. A wide variety of people benefit from conserving and restoring eelgrass beds including fishers, sports fishers, seafood consumers, local populations through recreation and income from tourism, land owners, house owners, and non-direct users through global reductions in carbon and just knowing that a healthy environment is achievable.
Dr Cole described how monetary values can be applied to very different types of ecosystem services, such as direct market value of fish and the biomass lost when a hectare of eelgrass is removed, the value of carbon with and without seagrass meadows, and the cost of replacing the functions of eelgrass beds such as building a water treatment plant or creating an artificial wetland. The bottom line, calculated from just three of the major ecosystem services was c. $17,500 per hectare of eelgrass meadow on average over a 50-year period.
Dr Cole noted that some valuation methods are better than others and that the limitations of some methods need to be taken into account because they may underestimate the true value of an ecosystem service. He also pointed out that not all seagrass meadows are created equal and some have higher values. The bottom line calculated is above is ‘on average’. While there are different opinions as to whether Nature should be valued in this way it risks people making the assumption that degradation of the environment is ‘free’.
Further information on how multiple ecosystem services provided by eelgrass meadows was calculated is available in an open access article “Valuing multiple eelgrass ecosystem services in Sweden: Fish production and uptake of carbon and nitrogen” by Cole and Moksnes (2016) in Frontiers in Marine Science. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2015.00121/full
Johan van der Koppel then described how often it is difficult for policy makers and the general public to visualise how restoration actions will improve the environment and very often local communities have to be engaged to gain support for ecosystem restoration measures, such as converting farmland into intertidal areas to reap the benefits of a wider suite of ecosystem services for the land. In addition it is often difficult to visualise how the restored ecosystem will develop over decadal timescales.
By using a suite of combined ecosystem models and combining these with computer graphic technologies it is possible to produce images that make the improvement of ecosystem services through restoration visible, tangible and even inspirational. A spin-out company from the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Mo4Com Visualisations, is developing the system and providing services to companies and Governments. Using models of plant biomass, sediment elevation, flow field and sand/sediment characteristics a detailed model of the distribution of species and species combinations can be visualised at the scale of the landscape, or seascape underwater.
The webinar was attended by at least 64 participants, 58+ on ZOOM and 8 on YouTube. An additional 28 people registered but were unable to attend on the day. These interested parties were contacted after the webinar to guide them to the archived screening on YouTube. Participants attended from 18 countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK) and included 21 companies (in environmental consultancy, energy and coastal engineering). Eighteen participants were Government policy makers. One member of the European Commission attended.
New members joined the MERCES Business Club following the webinar.
Overall, the webinar was considered a great success and provided a cost effective method for communicating with European businesses, and especially SMEs, which often do not have the budget or the time for extensive travelling. The greater use of webinars in European projects in the future should be encouraged. This MERCES approach is similar to another webinar series organised by the Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) Tools Network in the USA (http://www.ebmtools.org).
Work is in progress to organise the next MERCES webinar in September 2018 on issues relating to the restoration of hard bottom ecosystems in shallow and shelf seas. Various approaches are being considered including 1) the value of enhancing the health of coral communities, 2) the development of coastal areas as nature reserves through restoration and 3) the benefits that would be generated for local communities through increased sports diving and tourism.