Protected areas are fundamental providers of several goods and services, named as Ecosystem Services (ESs), which are essential for sustaining our life, as well as every economic activity. In the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), the most important international work on ESs assessment, they are defined as “all the benefits that people obtain, directly or indirectly from nature” and are divided in 4 categories:
a) provisioning services include all biomass produced by ecosystems and directly used by humans, such as food, water, timber, etc.;
b) regulating services sustain the functioning of the ecosystems, regulating important elements like climate, ﬂoods, disease, wastes, and water quality;
c) supporting services, necessary to support all other ESs, such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient or water cycling;
d) cultural services provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual beneﬁts, affecting all intangible values derived from the contact with nature and allowing tourism/recreational activities, artistic inspirations and so on.
Replacing or restoring (if possible) one or more of these ESs often entails high costs for the society (TEEB, 2008). For these reasons it is very important to account for the fundamental support of ESs in sustaining our well being. The ES approach is very useful to achieve this goal, because it gives the most complete portfolio of information on the different assets – natural, social, cultural and economic – which constitute the specific “capital stock” of a defined area (e.g. a regional park). Furthermore, the evaluation in monetary terms of the benefits get for free by humans from nature gives people and decision makers a clear and understandable “signal” about the economic returns that investments in protection of natural areas could provide.
The regional park “Costa Otranto-S.M. di Leuca e Bosco di Tricase” is located in the Province of Lecce (Apulia Region). It is a Site of Community Importance (SCI), part of the Nature 2000 Network established by the Directive Habitat (92/43/CEE). It develops along the south-eastern Salento coastline on the Adriatic Sea, including different habitats and a rich biodiversity with some endemic species, as well as several evidences of an ancient human being on this land. The park provides 12 final ESs (that are those directly affecting human well-being, that can be expressed in monetary terms), and it was possible to estimate an economic value for 5 ESs: carbon sequestration; forage intake for grazing sheep; water supply; and potential production of olive oil and biomass.
By collecting more data, it would be possible to evaluate other important ESs already provided by the park, like the cave’s tourism appealing that every year attracts many tourists on the sea coast.
The urgent need to recognize and integrate the value of the ESs into all decisional processes at different level – local, national and international – is internationally stressed, also considering the loss of natural areas, that will be around 750 million hectares – i.e. the size of Australia – over the period 2000-2050. (TEEB, 2008).
All changes occurring on ecosystems and their provision capacity of ESs will inevitably impact our well being and that of future generations. So, it is necessary to monitor and correctly balance the demand and supply of ESs, in order to ensure a real sustainable development in the long run.
Synthesis from Master Degree by Tiziana Pedone.