Coastal and marine ecosystem (CME) services provide benefits to people through direct goods and services that may be harvested or enjoyed in situ and indirect services that regulate and support biological and geophysical processes now and in the future. In the past two decades, there has been an increase in the number of studies and journal articles designed to measure the economic value of the world’s CME services, although there is significantly less published research than for terrestrial ecosystems. This article provides a review of the literature on valuation of CME services along with a discussion of the theoretical and practical challenges that must be overcome to utilize valuation results in CME policy and planning at local, regional, and global scales. The review reveals that significant gaps exist in research and understanding of the broad range of CME services and their economic values. It also raises questions about the validity of aggregating ecosystem services as independent components to determine the value of a biome when there is little understanding of the relationships and feedbacks between ecosystems and the services they produce. Finally, the review indicates that economic valuation of CME services has had a negligible impact on the policy process in four main regions around the world. An alternative direction for CME services research would focus on valuing the world’s CME services in a wealth accounting framework.
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