MARES Newsletter
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MARES: Marines Ecosystem Services Newsletter

November 13th, 2013    


MARES has been busy working with partners and scoping new projects in new areas, so it has been a while since we've been in touch. Here is a brief update to get the word out on some of our recent activities.

Speaking of getting the word out, we’ve responded to a challenge put forward by the Skoll Foundation to fundraise for important activities using crowdsourcing. Please view my profile here (as representative of MARES, and all of you, too) and give us your reactions, feedback, support, and - if you’re so inclined, much-needed donations!

If you have comments or would like to submit news stories, write to us at

Program Updates

Marismas Nacionales

We’ve been able to maintain significant momentum in Marismas Nacionales, even with the change in federal government in Mexico and despite the scale of the challenges there. Working in close collaboration with our governmental and NGO partners in the region, we’ve moved toward more strategic conservation, leveraging existing investments and planning new interventions to effectively safeguard mangrove ecosystems. With our partners, we’ve targeted not only the mangrove and lagoon system and the communities within the Marismas bounds, but also ejidos, municipalities, and other institutions of governance in watersheds that drain into, and greatly influence, the Marismas Nacionales ecosystem. The situation is complex, with multiple actors and many direct and indirect threats that affect ecosystem health, delivery of important ecosystem services, and the ability of local communities to benefit from the many values being delivered by natural capital. Nonetheless, we’ve succeeded in better defining the functioning of the Marismas ecosystems, especially as regards critical ecosystem services, and have worked with partner organizations to evaluate the potential of various interventions for delivering positive outcomes vis a vis the health and productivity of Marismas mangroves and associated ecosystems.

A key activity in the past months has been the engagement of Deltares – a Dutch engineering and planning firm (formerly known as Delft Hydraulics, specializing in hydrological modeling, coastal defense, and restoration of sediment and water flows to the coast – which they playfully refer to as ‘restoring the mud engine’). Deltares undertook a mission to the southern portion of the Marismas in mid-August of 2013, bringing not only their considerable coastal planning and engineering expertise, but also a needed fresh perspective on the challenging set of problems facing the Marismas and its communities. Jan van Dalfsen and Thorsten Balke of Deltares completed a report for the conservation and resource management community that outlines key steps to be taken in order to develop a more effective and holistic plan for Marismas mangroves and other coastal habitats.

These steps include a visioning workshop, in which stakeholders discuss their ambitions for the future of the mangrove complex, coastal environs, and watersheds that drain into the Marismas. At the moment, there is no defined vision for the Marismas Nacionales beyond aspirations to “conserve it”. As Deltares pointed out, restoring water flows and proper sediment delivery to the lagoons would perhaps facilitate mangrove restoration, but paradoxically might decrease biodiversity and fisheries potential. There are many groups and institutions (governmental and academic) working on conservation, restoration, and mitigation projects – but no common, shared vision on the end goal, which is badly needed to ensure that conservation groups don’t work at cross-purposes.

Another key recommendation made by Deltares is the need to invest in some basic monitoring to be able to understand the system, threats to it, and resulting effects on ecosystem services delivery and human well-being. At the moment, there is much speculation on why certain mangrove areas have died back, and little information on actual changes to hydrology, sediment regimes, water quality, and general environmental conditions. We are keen to support our partners in establishing a basic monitoring plan that will generate reliable information quickly. To the extent this can be done as ‘citizen science’  -- engaging ejido members to collect data on tide height, salinity, water quality, and biota – we will have a means of not only generating needed information, but also of further engaging community members with vested interests in the health of this vital ecosystem.

Abu Dhabi Blue Carbon

The Dhabi Blue Carbon Demonstration Project has attempted to show what can be done in designing blue carbon projects in a very short amount of time, given systematic data collection, mapping, and policy analysis, and we’ve made great progress in recent months.  The project is being led by GRID_Arendal, and involves many other institutions around the world, all working in close collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency (EAD). For our part, MARES has contributed an Ecosystem Services Assessment, that looks at the co-benefits alongside carbon sequestration that arise from five blue carbon habitats present in the Abu Dhabi coastal ecosystem: mangroves, salt marsh, seagrass, sabkha, and cyanobacterial mats. We have also contributed a carbon finance feasibility analysis, based on the carbon and associated ecosystem services assessments.

On the ecosystem services front, our findings indicate that many of these blue carbon habitats perform valuable ecosystem services, including shoreline stabilization, coastal hazard risk reduction, water quality maintenance, fisheries enhancement (commercial, traditional, and recreational), and support to biodiversity. Regarding the latter, this is not only critical for special species such as the dugong (Abu Dhabi has the second largest population of dugongs in the world), sea turtles, and seabirds/ shorebirds, but also to the fledgling eco-tourism industry in the Emirates.  Using benefits transfer we estimates that these co-benefits generate millions of dollars of value annually.  Given that Abu Dhabi is in a growth mode, many of these habitats will be at risk until these systems are more fully assessed and their services more precisely valued, so that trade-offs can be properly evaluated. The Blue Carbon Financing study undertaken by MARES’ Frank Hicks underscores the need to think holistically and systematically about blue carbon co-benefits when weighing various options for policy.  The Abu Dhabi Blue Carbon Demonstration Project full report will be available early in 2014 – stay tuned!


Recent Events

Ecosystem Services Partnership

The World Agroforestry Center, with the CGIAR Research Program: Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, convened the 6th Annual Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference in Bali from August 26, 2013 to August 30, 2013. The conference, entitled “Making Ecosystem Services Count” brought together national networks and partnerships, and working groups focusing on ecosystem services, with an emphasis on the practical application of the ecosystem services concept in planning, management and decision making, and the development of case studies.

Keynote Speakers included Steve Lansing (Professor in the School of Anthropology - University of Arizona); Meine van Noordwijk (Chief Science Advisor - World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Indonesia); Beria Leimona (Scientist - World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Indonesia) and Carl Obst (Editor, UN System of Environmental – Economic Accounting). 

Nicolas Pascal did a capable job representing the marine interests of many of those partners who were unable to attend the conference in Bali. In a workshop, Nicolas presented information on ongoing ecosystem services assessment, valuation, and PES projects in the marine realm, including two pilot projects from MARES: tour operator compensation schemes for fishers doing voluntary set-asides in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, and the investment by resort owners in management of reefs nearby in the San Andres Archipelago of Colombia. We thank you, Nicolas, and look forward to participating with you in a similar workshop on October 23rd at IMPAC 3 (the Third International Marine Protected Areas Conference) in Marseille, France. Vive les services de l’ecosysteme!


Until next time,

The MARES Team


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