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Capital assets underpinning economic well-being – the example of whale ecosystem services in Arctic coastal communities

Arctic coastal communities are a part of co-evolving marine social-ecological systems (SES), which support livelihoods, provide sustenance and underpin cultural identity. Whale ecosystem services (ES) represent a useful lens for gaining greater understanding of the linkages between marine ecosystems and human well-being, in the Arctic and beyond. The increasingly popular well-being economy paradigm recognises the contribution of different capital assets to human well-being and how these underpin the pursuit of sustainability domains: environmental, social and economic. This study explores the ways in which capital assets (natural, social, human, and financial and physical) provide essential natural and non-natural inputs into the delivery of whale ES in Arctic coastal communities. Through the deployment of a well-being economy framework linking capital assets to well-being goals and domains, examples are reported from three Arctic coastal communities in Iceland, Norway and Greenland. These case studies are based on data collected using multiple qualitative research methods: stakeholder mapping, participant and non-participant observations, literature reviews, and 54 semi-structured interviews with various stakeholders. The findings affirm that non-natural capital assets interact with natural capital in order to supply various whale ES, which include but are not limited to provisioned food products, recreational tourism, education, and artistic expressions. These results are significant since they provide a basis for understanding when, where and how decision-makers should intervene in whale ES delivery to maximise well-being and sustainability.

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Reflections on the ecosystem services of whales and valuing their contribution to human well-being

Although whale ecosystem services have been scarcely explored in the academic literature, they illustrate many of the threats, trade-offs and decision-making dilemmas common to marine ecosystem services in general – climate change impacts, the ongoing need to provide remote communities with forms of sustenance, and the potential development of new economic sectors which are prosperous but undermine traditional ways of life. In this paper, the first evaluation is carried out of the ecosystem services specific to whales, involving (a) their classification using the established Common International Classification Ecosystem Services (CICES) framework, (b) an assessment of the most suitable methods for their valuation, and (c) implications for decision-making. Our findings are that whale ecosystem services belong to all three categories of the CICES classification and cultural services are the most common type. The most suitable approach for the respective valuation of each service depends on the local socio-cultural context, a fundamental ingredient in value formation, which can formulate on either an individual or collective basis. In the case of individual value formation, this paper recommends the use of economic information derived from non-market valuation techniques; for collective, non-monetary techniques are advised. Given the complexity of human-environment interactions, a pluralist approach to valuation is likely to be required, whereby decision-makers are informed about impacts to whale ecosystem services through a mixture of economic and non-monetary information. A logical consequence of value pluralism is the need for decision-support platforms which can satisfactorily integrate different types of information concerning ecosystem service impacts, evaluating these against multiple marine management objectives. The paper briefly reflects on the potential of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis to fulfil this ambition, before discussing some of the current challenges and barriers which have limited the uptake of ecosystem services research in marine planning and decision-making.

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Whale sanctuaries–An analysis of their contribution to marine ecosystem-based management

Goal 14, ‘Life Below Water’, of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals sets a target for nations to increase the number of marine protected areas managed using ecosystem-based management, which requires interventions focused on fish stock conservation and enhancement, environmental sustainability and ecosystem services of benefit to human beings. Although not adhering to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s criteria for marine protected areas, whale sanctuaries are an increasingly common approach to conservation around the world. This paper is the first in the academic literature to use a case study approach to review the extent to which whale sanctuaries contribute to ecosystem-based management. A fifteen-criteria framework for marine ecosystem-based management is applied with reference to six whale sanctuary case studies, including the International Whaling Commission’s two designations in the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean. The review underscores the generally very limited contribution of whale sanctuaries to ecosystem-based management, unless they are explicit in stating conservation goals and embedding these within iterative management plans. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is cited as an example of an approach that comes closest to fulfilling the objectives of ecosystem-based management, albeit its designation lacks consideration of ecosystem dynamics and the interrelationships between multiple economic actors operating within its boundaries. In order to meet the requirements of Goal 14, the case studies in this paper reveal advancements necessary for whale sanctuaries to transition towards ecosystem-based management: establishment of objectives broader than the conservation of whale stocks, assessment of the contribution of the sanctuary to human well-being and trade-offs in ecosystem services, accounting for ecological and socio-economic dynamics, and ensuring broad stakeholder consultation and participatory adaptive management.

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