An Economic assessment of natural capital through cultural ecosystem service flows and marine recreational activities in the Basque Country: towards future conservation and sustainability.

Supervisors: Arantza Murillas, Maria C. Uyarra (AZTI).
The Basque Country supports a huge variety of (marine) recreational activities (MRAs) in the coastal and adjacent marine environment. The study- a socio-economic perspective on conservation- focuses on a selection of MRAs occurring along the coast and the natural capital these activities depend on, coupled with the ecosystem services generated through recreational use of this capital and associated benefits to humans contributing to well-being. The primary objective is to assess the economic value of coastal and marine natural capital following the flow through cultural ecosystem services. The inherently intangible nature of these services makes this research area difficult and therefore understudied for the Basque Country. To overcome the lack of conventional markets to assist valuation, an indirect way of gaining knowledge of the market is required through revealed preference methodologies, in particular applying an individual travel-cost method. Original demographic and logistical survey data- transformed into socio-economic shift variables- are modelled with Hicksian consumer-surplus to obtain a reflective value of the benefits people derive from visiting the Basque coast for recreational purposes, and therefore how valuable the natural capital is which these activities depend upon. To arrive to an economic valuation logistic econometric Generalized Linear and Generalised Additive modelling is applied, estimating consumer surplus and willingness to pay to visit the Basque coastal area and develop MRAs such as beach-going, diving sport fishing and coastal walking. This use enhances certain natural assets such as water, sand, iconic species, fish, land-seascapes or marine and coastal biodiversity- by an estimated €75-89 per visitor and trip depending on the model used. The model enables exploration of “future” scenarios, including effects of exceeding site carrying capacity, environmental quality change and variation in different demographics of a population. If environmental quality were reduced to an extent that these activities are reduced to develop only beach-going, it would contribute to lower consumer surplus between 12-20%. Service flows require healthy, functional natural capital in order to successfully transfer benefits through ecosystem services to society; the dichotomy of the situation however means resource quality is also degraded by the aggregated pressures of direct use commonly associated with “free” resources. No economic valuation currently exists for these coastal and marine resources, so by demonstrating a minimum-value estimate of this natural capital and its associated service flows, this study hopes to raise awareness of the crucial need to protect and conserve these naturally valuable coastal and marine assets. In the public domain this includes incentivising sustainable use, and politically through enhancement of effective efficiency both in regional policy-making, and compliance with international and European legislation, but also as a tool for future sustainable development of tourism and recreation sectors in line with the Blue Growth strategy and applicable to other areas such as MSP and coastal zone planning. Future applicability aims to enable a benefit transfer of the framework and model into other coastal regions to enhance integrated coastal management through-out Europe.

Key words: Marine recreation, Blue Growth, service flows, econometric modelling, sustainable management, non-market user value.