By Tundi Agardy, Contributing Editor, MEAM. Email:

Greater financial support for effective marine and coastal management is necessary the world over – especially if management is going to address, simultaneously, the complex suite of issues integral to EBM.

But even as the need for financing accelerates, the budgets of management agencies are shrinking (global recession and dealing with immediate security risks and conflicts both play into this). New revenue streams are badly needed – and these must be in the form of the steady, continuing support that keeping coastal systems healthy requires, not the one-off infusions of cash that often come from the donor community.

This makes finding innovative financing solutions for EBM imperative and urgent. In particular, this means that those who benefit from well-managed, productive, and valuable ocean areas must invest in their management. Naturally, many beneficiaries of marine ecosystem services would prefer to continue as free riders. But competition for ocean space and resources is ever increasing, and for those that benefit from ecosystem goods and services, not actively supporting marine management may mean that those benefits stop flowing. Enlightened members of the private sector are unlikely to let that happen as long they can see that management is resulting in return on investment.

Innovative financing schemes emerging

Luckily, innovative financing schemes that allow the public sector and the private sector (both businesses and communities) to share marine planning and management costs are emerging. These schemes include payments for ecosystem services (PES), biodiversity offsets, public/private partnerships, Marine Conservation Agreements [MCA], trust funds and other endowments, as well as impact investing.

The emergence of PES and other market-based mechanisms for protecting natural capital has been particularly slow in the marine realm for several reasons. One is the lack of conventional property rights at sea. This has required contract developers to utilize access rights rather than property rights to ‘sell’ ecosystem service delivery. Another major factor in the slow utilization of PES for marine and coastal habitat protection has been the limited capacity to date for assessing marine ecosystem services, determining their value, and ascertaining what factors affect ecosystem services delivery.

New rapid assessment techniques for quantifying and valuing marine ecosystem services, from blue carbon to shoreline stabilization, are now coming on line, however. The location of concentrations of ecosystem service-delivering habitats can be mapped, as can benefits flows across broader landscapes, setting the stage for innovative financing mechanisms like PES.

Measuring management performance is necessary for attracting investments

However, while we may be better at assessing and valuing benefits and services flowing from oceans, attracting investment in management is still not easy. I would argue that the biggest hindrance to doing so lies in our distaste for performance-based management and a naïve sense that EBM should be done because it is the right thing to do, not because it can profit investors. And while I share a distaste for commodifying nature, I also think the only way to set up the sustainable financing so necessary for lasting EBM is to attract the support of businesses that benefit from ecosystem goods and services alongside ocean advocates.

To do so we have to set up our management regimes so they deliver. Performance does not have to be measured in profitability, although most investors will see that first and foremost among the other elements of the triple bottom line, i.e., environmental, economic, and social outcomes. Performance can also be gauged in terms of satisfaction with management outcomes, equitable sharing of benefits, reduction in user conflicts, and hopes for the future. Planning performance-based management, with cost-effective monitoring schemes to demonstrate pay-offs, lends itself to investment in oceans, as opposed to welfare for oceans. And great investments are likely to stand the test of time, while welfare ebbs and flows like the tides.