Many people may not be aware that our natural ecosystems, such as our coral reefs, lagoon, foreshore vegetation, streams, highlands and cloud forest actually provide us with a number of services that are crucial for our survival.
If these ecosystems are destroyed or damaged, it would cost us a lot of money to try and restore them, even if we could.
We are seeing an example right now in Muri, where the coral reef and lagoon have provided protection, food, and livelihoods through tourism. However, we have allowed it to be degraded to such an extent that our government is now having to find millions of dollars to try and help the ecosystem there recover.
Another example of how we have degraded our coastal ecosystem is through removal of foreshore trees and other vegetation, the last line of coastal defence we have against storm surge.
Now that our natural defences are gone, in order to stop erosion, people now build rock seawalls to protect their investments. These seawalls come with their own negative impacts, mainly erosion at either end of the seawall and a scouring of the lagoon bottom caused by waves bouncing back from the hard surface of the seawall.
An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal, and microorganism communities and the nonliving environment, interacting as a functional unit.
Humans are an important part of most ecosystems. A well-defined ecosystem has strong interactions among its components. An ecosystem boundary, such as from the lagoon to the coast, is often the place where a number of things change significantly, for instance in the distribution of organisms, soil/sand types, drainage basins, or depth in a water body.
At a larger scale, regional and even globally distributed ecosystems can be evaluated based on a similarity of their basic structural units.
Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control, and protection from storms surge; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services, such as wetlands in the way they absorb and recycle polluting nutrients. They help maintain the conditions for life on Earth.
Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms. It includes the differences within and among species and differences within and among ecosystems. Biodiversity is the source of many ecosystem goods, such as food and genetic resources, and changes in biodiversity can influence the supply of ecosystem services.
People seek many services from ecosystems and thus see the condition of an ecosystem in relation to its ability to provide desired services. The ability of ecosystems to deliver services can be assessed by a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods.
An assessment of the condition of ecosystems, the provision of services, and their relation to human well-being requires an integrated approach. This enables a decision process to determine which service or set of services is valued most highly and how to develop approaches to maintain services by managing the system sustainably.
Very little work has been done on valuation of the various ecosystem services in the Cook Islands, and the current study has had to rely heavily on examples form other countries with similar ecosystem types to ours. More information and a “ball park figure” to give a dollar value for the important Cook Islands ecosystems will be available from the National Environment Service once the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan is completed in several months.