With Mother’s Day recently come and gone, it is likely we all paid tribute to the mothers or mother figures in our lives for all they do for us – but what about our other mother? Beautiful Mother Earth.
While going about our days and getting wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, it can be hard to remember that every minute of every day we are being looked after by the planet. Like right now, as you take a sip of coffee or text on your phone, you are benefiting from what has been coined as “ecosystem services”.
What are Ecosystem Services?
Ecosystem services was a term first used to draw attention to environmental degradation in the 1980s. It was thought that providing a monetary value to the earth’s functions may aid in its protection. So, what are ecosystem services? Well, similarly to when your mother fed you and brushed your teeth, ecosystem services are the benefits to humans provided by the planet and its healthy ecosystems. Of these services, there are four main categories distinguishing the functions: regulating services, provisioning services, supporting services, and cultural services.
Types of Ecosystem Services
Regulating services are things that regulate the functioning of ecosystems and their processes. These include things like: pollination, climate, disease, and water regulation. For example, our ecosystems, such as forests, sequester vast amounts of carbon, trapping the greenhouse gas in their tissues. For those questioning how diseases can be regulated, it is as simple as having a balance in predator and prey dynamics (as is common in healthy ecosystems), so that pests and animals that act as disease vectors can be controlled, such as mosquitoes.
Provisioning services are more easily understood services like oxygen, raw materials or energy output in the form of food, water, and medicines.
Supporting services are functions that are required for all other ecosystem services. This includes habitats and genetic diversity. Genetic diversity refers to a species gene pool and ensures that it is variable and therefore, can adapt to change.
Finally, cultural services are non-material benefits people get from ecosystems, like recreation, spirituality, and tourism. For example, recreational benefits include going for a run in the forest, spiritual benefits are things such as the intrinsic value of the earth to Indigenous groups, and tourism, such as kayaking tours and camping, which benefits from our ecosystems and biodiversity.
Ecosystem Services of Mayne Island
Ecosystem services are easy to think about on a grand scale, like the Amazon rainforest as a large producer of oxygen, but when we zoom in, can we identify the services our local communities’ benefit from? Here on Mayne Island, the services we currently enjoy are in the process of being lost due to land development and habitat fragmentation.
In terms of cultural services, we are abundant in comparison with nearby urban centres. Encompassed by the ocean with breathtaking views of the Salish Sea and surrounding Gulf Islands, Mayne Island offers an extraordinary amount of recreational, spiritual, and tourism benefits. From diverse beaches to the forests of Mt. Parke, Mayne’s ecosystems provide many resources to keep our minds, bodies, souls, and economy happy.
Similarly, we are lucky to have many provisioning services available to us. Despite historic logging, agriculture, and more recent residential development, Mayne Island has a good amount of forest cover for storing carbon and recharging groundwater, farmable land to grow some of our food, and places to harvest seafood.
The Challenge of Private Ownership
However, Mayne Island faces significant challenges when it comes to the continuation of the services we currently enjoy and rely on. Since Mayne Island is 85% privately owned, the future provision of ecosystem services depends on how private lands are managed. For example, the groundwater our community relies upon for drinking is recharged each winter during the rainy season. Intact soils and forests help slow surface water and allow it to seep into the ground. When we remove forest cover, compact soils, and drain wetlands, we decrease groundwater recharge capacity. Unfortunately, as residential development pressures increase, individual landowners are economically rewarded for doing exactly those things.
The private land stewards upon who we all depend on for the continuation of these valuable services are rarely recognized or rewarded for their contribution. So, thank you very much all of you who voluntarily maintain intact ecosystems and the services they provide for our community. Thank you for preventing soil erosion, climate change, and out of control mosquitoes. Thank you for clean air, clean water, and for the wildlife we enjoy with our loved ones.
What can we do?
There are ways we can help retain these precious services that provide so much for us. First, we can expand our awareness of the services we have in our own backyard. The more we learn about how they support us, the more value we will hopefully place on them. Secondly, there is the conservation and stewardship of land, which is a main priority for the Mayne Island Conservancy. The more we conserve these important ecosystems and their health, the more capacity we retain to adapt to and endure the challenges we all face, like our changing climate.
So, next Mother’s Day, and everyday, lets thank ALL the mothers – including our planet – for what they do for us.