Ecosystem services and natural capital

Natural capital and ecosystem services underpin our economy and society, and are therefore directly relevant to policy and business decision-making. Improved data enables the development of ecosystem valuation indicators that can be incorporated into government and businesses management.

Metadata list


Natural capital and ecosystem services underpin our economy and society, and are therefore directly relevant to policy and business decision-making. The World Forum on Natural Capital defines natural capital as ‘the world's stock of natural resources, which includes geology, soils, air, water and all living organisms’.

Natural capital assets provide people with a wide range of free goods and services, often called ‘ecosystem services’. For example, a coral reef is a component of natural capital, while climate regulation is the ecosystem service it provides (the coral reef does this by sequestering and storing ‘blue’ carbon from the atmosphere and oceans).

Ecosystem services are split into four broad categories:

Understanding the precise concepts of these terms allows them to be measured, monitored reported, and then incorporated into policy and business decision-making. To achieve this, the development and use of indicators can help to implement appropriate monitoring and valuation of marine biodiversity.

There are also a wide range of tools to aid valuation. For instance, the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) can be used to evaluate the benefits people receive from nature at particular sites in order to generate information that can be used to influence decision-making.

Case Studies

Marine and coastal biodiversity data can be used alongside other datasets to support ecosystem valuation. Those hosted on the Ocean Data Viewer have been used by:

  • Not-for-profit and UN-associated organisations to assess natural capital, ecosystem value and blue carbon
  • Governments to assess habitats for blue carbon (e.g., scoping studies, national- and global-level carbon assessments)
  • Research institutions to map resources and conduct ecosystem valuation (e.g., blue carbon)
  • Media organisations to compare habitat distributions in terms of ecological or economic value
  • The development financing sector to identify environmental assets in a region

Tools & Resources

Blue carbon mapping toolkit

The toolkit can be used to broadly assess the impact of development on coastal marine ecosystems and the associated blue carbon stock. Carbon stocks are based on the above- and below ground carbon stored within each ecosystem type, estimated from field-based measurements.

Further information

Importance of Mangroves to People

The Importance of Mangroves to People provides accessible information and downloadable images on the location and ecology of mangroves (Chapter 1). There is also information on the services and benefits that mangroves provide to humans, as well as the risks associated with losing these services as a result of ongoing global habitat loss and degradation (Chapters 2 and 3). The report concludes with management and policy options at the local, regional and global level that could prevent further losses through effective conservation measures, sustainable management and successful restoration (Chapter 4).

Further information

Towards a global map of natural capital: key ecosystem assets

Fundamental to human wellbeing, natural capital comprises both ecosystem assets (such as freshwater) and natural resources (such as fossil fuel deposits). This report represents the first global composite map of ecosystem assets, combining a number of existing global spatial datasets to produce a map for both terrestrial and marine realms.

Further information

Measuring ecosystem services: Guidance on developing ecosystem service indicators

These guidelines have been produced to support the development of ecosystem service indicators at the national and regional level for uses in reporting, assessments, policy making, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem management, environmental management, development planning and education.

Further information

Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA)

The Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-Based Assessment (TESSA) is designed to provide accessible guidance on low-cost methods for evaluating the benefits people receive from nature at particular sites. TESSA is primarily designed for use by conservation practitioners, but may be applicable across a wide range of uses such as natural resource management, land use planning, and use by the private sector.

Further information

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