Insights //

Our thoughts about things that interest, inspire, and motivate us.


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.

southern-bajaFig­ure 2: Map of south­ern Baja Cal­i­for­nia de Sur (

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:

Pro­vi­sion­ing Ser­vices

Reg­u­lat­ing Ser­vices

Cul­tur­al and Recre­ation­al Ser­vices


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.