Ecosystem Services and the Gulf Disaster

BP’s massive oil spill jeopardizes the underpinning of economic wealth in the Gulf of Mexico region – the diverse coastal and marine ecosystems that generate a bounty of goods and services for communities from the Yucatan peninsula to Key West. Ecosystem services, or the benefits that humans receive from nature, form the backbone of the recreation, tourism, and fishing industries, enhance property values along the coast, sequester carbon dioxide and provide storm and hurricane protection. The Gulf’s ecosystems provide all of these services free of charge, but they are not without value, and the massive BP oil spill has now put many of those ecosystems in great jeopardy.

Ecosystem Services and Economic Impact

A recently-released study by Earth Economics (PDF) estimates that the Mississippi Delta’s ecological communities currently generate up to $13,000 per acre in ecosystem services each year. Over the next hundred years, this estimate, for just the Mississippi Delta region, translates into a present value of $330 billion to $1.3 trillion, the wide range owing to uncertainties about the value of ecosystem services over that time period. Exposure to residual oil over the course of decades will diminish the value of ecosystem services generated by marshes, wetlands, and coastal waters in the spill’s path.

The loss of ecosystem service values from the BP spill will be felt in both the short and long term, both onshore and offshore. In the short term, for example, the CoStar Group predicts that the spill may drive down shore-area property value in the Gulf by ten percent over at least three years– a $4.3 billion loss. The spill’s effects on other services will endure for much longer. According to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, ecosystem services affected by that disaster are still recovering twenty years later (PDF). Using Earth Economics figures, a twenty percent reduction in ecosystem service values along the Gulf coast from the Louisiana-Texas border to St. George Island, Florida would equate to $15 to $60 billion in economic damages over a similar, twenty-year period, not counting losses to those directly affected by spill related closures in the short term.

Read More

Photo Credit

Share Your Perspective