12 September 2023

About two thirds of the Australian population lives right next to the Great Southern Reef, yet little research has been done to identify and evaluate the ecosystem services it provides. Accurate estimates of the contribution of kelp forests to society and the economy are needed to support monitoring and evidence-based management.

So how do we value the Great Southern Reef? A commercial fisher might value the reef for the catch it provides, the income it brings and livelihood it sustains for their family. A traditional owner might value the reef for the connection to cultural practices that have been passed on for thousands of generations. An artist might value the reef for the awe and wonder it provides that inspires their creativity.

These are all examples of ecosystem services provided by nature for the benefit of society. Measuring ecosystem services enables us to put a value on the benefits provided by nature, that are so often taken for granted. It also allows us to compare these values in a common language that is commensurate with other ecosystems and parts of society, such as industry and government.

To compile the services provided by the Great Southern Reef, recently scientists used the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services framework. Under this framework, ecosystem services are classified into four broad groups, based on the type of benefit provided:

  • Provisioning services are the goods that humans directly extract from ecosystems. Fisheries catch is an example of a provisioning service on the Great Southern Reef.
  • Regulating services are the benefits that ecosystems provide by regulating natural processes and ecological functions. Examples of regulating services include carbon sequestration, climate regulation, nutrient uptake.
  • Cultural services are the non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These services include the spiritual, aesthetic, and recreational values that people place on nature and the landscape, as well as the cultural heritage and identity associated with places and landscapes.
  • Habitat services refer to the provision of suitable living conditions for wildlife and other organisms. Habitat services can be valued for their existence and ability to provide suitable food, shelter, breeding and recruitment habitats for species within the ecosystem.

A challenge when quantifying the benefits provided by ecosystems is to wrangle them into common comparable metrics. How does one compare the value of cultural history and practices that have continued for thousands of generations with the value of contemporary tourism on the Great Southern Reef?

This video investigates this question and reveals new figures on the economic value of the Great Southern Reef.