The concept of ecosystem services has been on the rise in some professional circles but poorly understood by the general public. Humans benefit from a variety of products and services provided naturally by the environment. These can be critical to society well-being but are rarely considered in decision making. The contribution of natural ecosystems are un-quantified and unmeasured, but their importance includes food, medicine, and the resources to conduct daily lives.

The Harte Research Institute (HRI) and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Habitat Conservation and Restoration Team (HCRT) have been working together to better quantify some of these services. A study was completed in 2012 for the Galveston Bay region of Texas. The pilot focused on wetland habitats and their potential response to sea level rise.

Not surprising, ecosystem services are vast and complicated. Wetland habitats in the study were separated into wetland versus salt marsh types. The services they provide were also delineated into nutrient cycling, disturbance regulation, food, aesthetics, recreation, and water regulation. The team then placed potential dollar values on the services if they were lost in the future. Millions of dollars were noted in these scenarios. The ecosystem services value estimates provided were only a small portion of what could be lost due to the decrease in habitat area and the associated services they provide.

Because each geographic location is unique and thus the habitat present may differ slightly in the services, numerous studies are required to create a broader understanding of total value. HRI has also worked with the Ecosystem Integration and Assessment (EIA) Team. HRI launched GecoServ.org in 2010 to support the EIA team’s action plan to inventory the range of ecological services provided by coastal resources in the Gulf region. GecoServ provides a centralized location of valuation work done so it can be shared and distributed to further the understanding of ecosystem services. The site not only shares technical studies but also has information for educators (ES visualized) and the media.

HRI and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance continue to collaborate on the broadening field of ecosystem services. Expect to see more results from these organizations as work continues. Download a copy of Galveston Bay Ecosystem Services Sea Level Rise report.