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Thanks for pointing me to any sources on valuing sea bottom preservation, notably with a view to comparing with economic value from bottom trawling or dredging.


There is a large literature on marine and coastal valuation. Hanley et al (2015) review evidence on marine and coastal valuation, asking if it is 'fit for purpose'. They consider three cases including the deep sea (with conclusions that are relevant for sea bottoms generally) stating that gaps in scientific knowledge mean that it is hard to predict the effects of changes in deep-sea ecosystem management on the delivery of intermediate and final ecosystem services. This makes the use of production function methods for economic valuation difficult.

Moreover, an almost-complete lack of public experience with and understanding of deep sea ecosystems creates a challenge for using stated preference methods to estimate willingness to pay for deep-sea protection, since peoples' preferences for these assets will be highly incomplete. Use of valuation workshop methods may help to fill knowledge gaps.

eftec et al (2014) present a review specifically in the context of benthic habitats exposed to abrasion from fishing for the UK - see in particular Appendix III which gives the economic literature review. They make similar caveats, noting that data limitations, lack of scientific knowledge, and paucity of economic evidence 'mean that the study's results are, in general, best regarded as indicative of impacts rather than firm predictions ... a step towards a viable methodology for marine ecosystem valuation, rather than a study that provides a definitive answer. The results are not suitable as the basis for marine policy decisions, but its results improve the information available to policy makers, and, along with the information gaps identified, can guide future research.' For example, cold water corals have been a popular choice for study because they're relatively easy to explain to people.

Jobsvogt et al (2014) present a choice experiment study of Scottish households willingness-to-pay for additional marine protected areas in the Scottish deep-sea. Survey respondents were willing to pay £70 to £77 each to promote deep-sea biodiversity conservation and develop new medicinal products from deep-sea.

Wattage et al (2011) report a similar study showing the public of Ireland willing to pay up to €10 each to protect deep-sea corals from trawling.

Aansen et al (2015) present a study of CWC conservation in Norway, showing heterogenous preferences but general willingness to pay for CWC protection despite the fact that marine industries such as oil/gas and fisheries could be adversely affected.

Falk-Andersson et al (2015) on the other hand report focus groups where respondents were generally not willing to support exploratory closures of fishing grounds while the presence and status of CWCs was checked.

The results of these studies demonstrate public interest and concern for marine conservation, but the interpretation of the results in cost-benefit analysis terms is challenging as it generally remains unclear to what extent people understand what they're valuing and there are likely to be scale/scope insentitivity issues and potential framing effects. There is also interest in restoration of damaged seabed habitats. There is some evidence however that restoration could work, e.g. Stromberg et al (2010) report experiments in which CWCs from northeastern Atlantic grown in laboratories and reintroduced to the sea floor had 76% of corals surviving after three years. Barbier et al (2014) note, however, that restoration of freshwater and coastal environments shows that systems do not recover full function, or at least not very quickly.

Restoration of deep sea environments is likely to suffer similar problems, but would be hugely more expensive due to the challenges of working at depth. Van Dover et al (2013) suggest a cost of up to US$75 million to restore one hectare of trawled coral seabed at the Darwin Mounds hummocks, for example.

Comparisons of value have been attempted but face challenges due to the valuation challenges noted above. Tinch et al (2015) explain the different options for comparing sector values in general, with particular reference to commercial fishing vs recreational angling.

There has been work in the aggregates industry looking at the impacts of dredging and their valuation and at comparison of marine and terrestrial sources of aggregates: see Newell and Woodcock (2013). Hull et al (2014) report work for the Crown Estate looking at developing a framework for analysing different sources of value in UK seas; see also Borger et al (2014).

Aanesen, M., Armstrong, C., Czajkowski, M., Falk-Petersen, J., Hanley, N., Navrud, S., (2015). Willingness to pay for unfamiliar public goods: Preserving cold-water corals in Norway. Ecological Economics, 112 53-67

Barbier, E. B., Moreno-Mateos, D., Rogers, A. D., Aronson, J., Pendleton, L., Danovaro, R., ... & Van Dover, C. L. (2014). Protect the deep sea. Nature, 505(7484), 475-477.

Borger, T., Beaumont, N. J., Pendleton, L., Boyle, K. J., Cooper, P., Fletcher, S., ... & Portela, R. (2014). Incorporating ecosystem services in marine planning: The role of valuation. Marine Policy, 46, 161-170.

eftec et al (2014) Valuing the UK Marine Environment - an Exploratory Study of Benthic Ecosystem Services. (see in particular Appendix III - Economic Literature Review

Falk-Andersson, Jannike, Naomi S. Foley, Claire W. Armstrong, Sybille van den Hove, Thomas M. van Rensburg, and Rob Tinch. (2015) 'A deliberative approach to valuation and precautionary management of cold water corals in Norway.'Maritime Studies 14, no. 1: 1-18. 10.1186/s40152-015-0023-z

Hanley, N., Hynes, S., Patterson, D., & Jobstvogt, N. (2015). Economic Valuation of Marine and Coastal Ecosystems: Is it currently fit for purpose?. Journal of Ocean and Coastal Economics, 2(1), 1.

Hull, S, Dickie, I, Tinch, R and Saunders, J (2014) Issues and challenges in spatio-temporal application of an ecosystem services framework to UK seas. Marine Policy 45 (2014) 359-367

Jobstvogt, N., Hanley, N., Hynes, S., Kenter, J., & Witte, U. (2014a). Twenty thousand sterling under the sea: Estimating the value of protecting deep-sea biodiversity. Ecological Economics, 97, 10-19.

Jobstvogt, N., Townsend, M., Witte, U., & Hanley, N. (2014b). How can we identify and communicate the ecological value of deep-sea ecosystem services?. PloS one, 9(7), e100646.

Newell RC and Woodcock TA (2013) (eds) AGGREGATE DREDGING AND THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT: an overview of recent research and current industry practice.

Stromberg, S. M., Lundalv, T., & Goreau, T. J. (2010). Suitability of mineral accretion as a rehabilitation method for cold-water coral reefs. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 395(1), 153-161.

Tinch, R, Mathieu, L and Anderson, S (2015) Comparing Industry Sector Values, With a Case Study of Commercial Fishing and Recreational Sea Angling. Final report to UKFEN

Van Dover, C. L., Aronson, J., Pendleton, L., Smith, S., Arnaud-Haond, S., Moreno-Mateos, D., ... & Edwards, A. (2014). Ecological restoration in the deep sea: Desiderata. Marine Policy, 44, 98-106

Wattage, P., Glenn, H., Mardle, S., Van Rensburg, T., Grehan, A., & Foley, N. (2011). Economic value of conserving deep-sea corals in Irish waters: A choice experiment study on marine protected areas. Fisheries Research, 107(1), 59-67.

Posted on: 3 Mar 2016 - 14:20

The intact value of the benthic ecosystem is not routinely specified and the question tends to be addressed when this arises in respect to prospective seabed exploitation projects when it is addressed through the logic of prospective damage costs.  Even then, the costs and benefits of seabed exploitation that are considered in environmental assessment and permitting processes are typically not considered in equivalent terms. Whereas the (commercial) benefits are monetized, any identified ecological damage costs have, to date, been expressed largely in terms of damage categories and anticipated physical damages. This is a gap which may be addressed through the emergence of more rigorous and systematic marine spatial planning and management processes as these get underway.

The state of knowledge and practice varies between near-shore and deep-sea contexts.

Territorial waters

Current UK practice is illustrative in respect to territorial waters. In the UK, JNCC carries out offshore seabed surveys to gather evidence needed to support the work of all marine teams within the organisation. Evidence collected is used:

- To support the identification and designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) 
- To develop monitoring for protected habitats and features both within and outwith MPAs 
- To assess the condition of the seabed
- To inform appropriate conservation management of the seabed

General information relating to offshore seabed surveys JNCC has undertaken can be found on the 'Completed Offshore Surveys' page of its website. Survey data, reports, interactive maps and other outcomes are made publically available on the JNCC website and data are publically archived with accredited organisations.

The Marine Environmental Data and Information Network (MEDIN) promote improved access to and sharing of marine data. MEDIN is an open partnership with representatives of government departments, research institutions and private companies. Working with these partners, MEDIN has set up a network of accredited Data Archive Centres (DACs) to provide secure long-term storage of and access to marine data. DACs accredited by MEDIN include: 

BGS (Seabed and sub-seabed geology):

UKHO (Bathymetry data):

DASSH (Benthic flora, fauna and habitats):

JNCC has been involved in developing data standards across the marine community, particularly with regard to producing the Marine Monitoring Handbook (MMH), involvement in the Mapping European Seabed Habitats project (MESH) and the National Marine Biological Analytical Quality Control Scheme (NMBAQC), use of Marine Recorder, and contributing data to the MEDIN DACs and the National Biodiversity Network (NBN).

JNCC works closely with the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association(BMAPA) and individual dredging companies on nature conservation issues. 

In the UK, dredging companies must obtain both a licence from The Crown Estate and permission from the regulator in order to carry out commercial extraction activities. Marine aggregate extraction beyond territorial waters is currently regulated by the Marine and Fisheries Agency (MFA) section within Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The Crown Estate owns the mineral rights to the seabed, extending to the limits of the UK continental shelf (UKCS). They issue licences for the commercial extraction of aggregates and for non-exclusive sampling. Following a successful tender, applicants for a dredging licence undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as part of the legislative procedure. The MFA with advice from statutory consultees including JNCC review the EIA in order to determine whether a licence should be granted.

In order to support regional sustainability of aggregate extraction and improving the evidence base for individual licence applications the marine aggregate industry has made a voluntary commitment to undertake Regional Environmental Assessments (REAs) for a number of strategic areas of extraction. The first REA was commissioned by the East Channel Association (ECA) for the East Channel Region (ECR) and published in 2003 presenting a regional assessment of potential impacts of dredging in the ECR.

Following the completion of the REA, a regional environmental monitoring programme was developed by the ECA to test the predictions of the REA. REAs have also been commissioned for the outer Thames Estuary, the South Coast region around the Isle of Wight, the Humber region and the East Coast region off Great Yarmouth.  JNCC and Natural England are involved in the REA process for all strategic regions and both are members of the Regulatory Advisors Group, which has developed principles, guidance and methodologies for the REAs from nature conservation and marine and historic environment perspectives. This guidance is available at:

Deep Sea

In respect to the deep sea, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report (2004) entitled 'Cold Water coral Reefs: Out of Sight - No Longer Out of Mind'. More recently, in September 2010, UNEP  issued a report, Deep-sea Sponge Grounds: Reservoirs of Biodiversity, highlighting deep-sea sponge science and conservation. The report consolidates knowledge on the biology and ecology of deep-water sponge grounds, their value to society, and their associated policy frameworks. 

In the northeast Atlantic the EU funded HERMIONE project (Hotspot Ecosystem Research and Man's Impact on European Seas) to advance knowledge of the functioning of deep-sea ecosystems and the impacts of human activities on such ecosystems. HERMIONE ran from April 2009 through September 2012. Among the project conclusions, was that whole communities of deep-sea species, including many more than those targeted commercially, have been depleted in the northeast Atlantic as a result of deep-sea bottom trawling. The project also concluded that the physical impact of bottom trawling on the seabed was orders of magnitude higher than that of all other activities combined (e.g. oil and gas exploration, research, submarine cable laying etc.) in the area. Further information is available at:

There have recently been a number of new initiatives from deep-sea scientists to provide scientific advice and information relevant to the regulation of activities in the deep sea. Among these are INDEEP and the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI), which are addressing deep-sea fisheries, deep seabed mining and bioprospecting for seabed marine genetic resources (among other things).

A useful contact for further information about HERMIONE and similar projects might be Dr. David Billett ( 

Dr. Billett was the Co-Chair of the Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems Group at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) 2006 to 2011, before leaving NOC in September 2012 to become the Director of Deep Seas Environmental Solutions Ltd.  He is now a Visiting Research Fellow at NOC continuing to work on research projects. He maintains an active involvement with the Deepseas and Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems (OBE) Research Groups. His research projects have included Hotspot Ecosystem Research and Man's Impacts on European Seas (HERMIONE), Ecosystems of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (ECOMAR), climate change on the deep-sea floor (Oceans 2025), deep-sea observatories (ESONET, EuroSITES), environmental monitoring using Remotely Operated Vehicles (SERPENT) and the consequences of natural iron fertilisation in the Indian Ocean (CROZEX). He is currently contributing to MIDAS (Mining Impacts of Deep Sea Resource Exploitation), a three-year project (2013-2016) funded by the European Commission.

Posted on: 4 Mar 2016 - 11:20