Authors: Melinda Felso, David Oswald
The news we get of Mexico is often wrought with stories of cartels, violence, and corruption, however, there is a vast array of natural wonders in this remarkable country that are just starting to be recognized for their true economic value. These natural resources can be viewed as ‘ecosystem services’ which are basically services that nature provides our society. One very important service that ecosystems provide is buffering the impact of climate disruption, which is a growing concern.
In the Spring of 2016, three teams of graduate students from Royal Roads University, under the direction of DE’s David Oswald, collaborated with key community stakeholders and Colorado State University to focus their efforts on estimating economic value of ecosystem services in Todos Santos, Baja California del Sur, Mexico. Ecosystem services are broken into three categories: provisioning services (food, raw materials, water), regulating services (local climate and air quality, moderation of extreme events, carbon sequestration), habitat or supporting services (habitat for species, maintaining genetic diversity), and cultural services (recreation, tourism, aesthetic quality, spiritual sense of place).
Figure 1: An image of the surf break at sunset at San Pedrito in Pescadero (near Todos Santos). A mix of professional and amateur surfers venture to this great spot (photo: David N. Oswald)
Historically, ecosystem services have been treated as an inexhaustible free ‘good’ and their true value to society neglected, resulting in the mistreatment and overuse of most of our precious natural resources. Assigning a monetary value to ecosystem services can help to raise awareness and enables more efficient use of resources.
Todos Santos is an amazing surf spot in Baja California del Sur, 77 kilometres north of Cabo San Lucas. It is also known for whale and bird watching and hiking. Despite the relative obscurity of this town, proposed and ongoing development poses a possible threat to ecosystem services that the area residents depend on.
The main ecosystem services examined were freshwater and agriculture (provisioning services), groundwater recharge and flow control (regulating services) and recreation/tourism and aesthetic (cultural services). Virtually all of these services are dependent on or are influenced by ground or surface water which is already naturally scarce in the region. The Todos Santos aquifer is the main source of domestic and agricultural water. Surface fresh water is only found in the Todos Santos lagoon. Figure 3 depicts the Todos Santos watershed.
Figure 3: The permeable soils and sedimentary formations (“material permeable”) bounded by low permeable rock formations (“rocas impermeables”) limit groundwater flow. The springs (“manantiales”) feed into the Arroyo La Reforma that feeds the Todos Santos lagoon. Surface water discharges from the Arroyo La Reforma into the ocean and the groundwater discharge into the ocean (“descarga subterranean al mar”).
The reports found that the total monetary value of agriculture is 22.5 million peso and water supply is 14.9 million peso in a year. These values were derived using the TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) framework which is based on a database of existing valuation studies and presents values for ecosystem services in various regions of the world.
The total annual value of groundwater recharge of the Todos Santos watershed was USD $34,827,520 per year, using the replacement cost method (what the cost of replacing the groundwater recharge service would be) and flow control was $165/day ($60,225.00/year) using the hedonic valuation method (the stated willingness of tourists to pay for being in proximity of the only surface freshwater in the area).
The total annual value of the recreation/tourism and aesthetics was releveled to be approximately USD $68.06 to 85.53 million annually using the direct market pricing method of tourism and accounted for activities, accommodation, nourishment that the tourists pay for, with the assumption that people are willing to pay the prescribed economic value for these ecosystem services.
Figure 4: An impromptu concert by one of the Pescadero locals. An example of the creativity and culture (read — cultural services) that is omnipresent in Todos Santos / Pescadero (Photo: David N. Oswald)
The reports also recommended actions for long-term sustainability of the area, including selecting key indicators of ecosystem services health, such as quantity, quality and withdrawal rate of surface and ground water, area of preserved natural and cultural heritage and opportunities to see wildlife. These indicators should provide clear links between a given ecosystem service and its relationship to a specific aspect of the ecosystem and how this would impact the area residents. Engaging key stakeholders in the process was also recommended.
The ecosystem framework and TEEB valuation method is useful for assessing risks. Increasingly, businesses are needing to understand what risk exposure they have to disturbances such as droughts, floods, climatic variability, and other hazards. By having a handle on their reliance on various key ecosystem services they have a better chance at determining how they potentially will be impacted and can plan accordingly.
Figure 5: A mariachi band playing at the opening of Colorado State University’s campus in Todos Santos in 2015 (Photo: David N. Oswald)
These reports were prepared by working professionals who are engaged in graduate study in Environmental Management at Royal Roads University. There was a short time frame for this project and the teams relied on secondary data and a lot of assumptions, therefore the results are far from perfect. Nevertheless they indicate the importance of evaluating ecosystem services in a manner that decision makers can relate to and these reports lay the foundation for further, more detailed, work.
Although there are challenges that are faced in Mexico, as in other countries, the richness of the culture and natural heritage is amazing and something that one must see. The evolution of understanding of economic valuation of ecosystem services will help to put countries such as Mexico at the forefront of development.
Download Reports here:
Adams, M., Chaboyer, S., Hatcher, B., & Zellweger K. (2016). Sustainability Reporting and Ecosystem Valuation Research: Provisioning Services.
Boles, J., Gledhill, K., Tibu, S. & Marshall, C. (2016). Todos Santos Ecosystem Valuation Research: Groundwater Recharge and Flow Control
Brown, E., Felso, M., Liao, Y. C., Tourangeau, E. (2016). Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico case study: economic valuation and reporting of cultural provisioning ecosystem services.