The value of nature in the Caribbean Netherlands

The Challenge
Healthy ecosystems such as the forests on the hillsides of the Quill on St Eustatius and Saba’s Mt Scenery or the corals reefs of Bonaire are critical to the society of the Caribbean Netherlands. In the last decades, various local and global developments have resulted in serious threats to these fragile ecosystems, thereby jeopardizing the foundations of the islands’ economies. To make well-founded decisions that protect the natural environment on these beautiful tropical islands against the looming threats, it is crucial to understand how nature contributes to the economy and wellbeing in the Caribbean Netherlands. This study aims to determine the economic value and the societal importance of the main ecosystem services provided by the natural capital of Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. The challenge of this project is to deliver insights that support decision-makers in the long-term management of the islands’ economies and natural environment. 

The Approach
By assigning economic values to the main ecosystem services of the Caribbean Netherlands, this research draws attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity
and highlights the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.
From the onset of the study, stakeholders on each island actively participated in the research by providing information and valuable insights. This process of stakeholder engagement also created public support for the concept of ecosystem services among the target audiences. The studies address the most relevant ecosystems and ecosystem services for each of the three islands and apply a range of economic valuation and evaluation tools. By surveying more than thousand people on the three islands including tourists, local residents as well as interviewing around 1,700 Dutch residents in the continental Netherlands, this study estimates the willingness of individuals to pay for the protection of nature of the Caribbean Netherlands. Furthermore, scenario analyses are conducted to inform decision-makers about the most effective strategies to manage the ecosystems of the islands thereby supporting the economy and wellbeing of its residents.

The Results
The total economic value (TEV) of the ecosystem services provided by marine and terrestrial ecosystems represents an important part of the economy. The TEV of the natural environment of the Caribbean Netherlands amounts to $122 million per year. The TEV and its underlying components can be used to design a strategy for effective conservation measures and sustainable development. After extensively analysing different development scenarios for the value of future ecosystem services on Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba, we can draw a number of clear and outstanding conclusions. For example, there are indeed ample opportunities to further develop the tourism industry, however, increasing the tourism sector beyond its capacity will cause pressures the local ecosystems cannot endure. Consequently, degradation of the natural environment will deter future tourists from coming to the Caribbean Netherlands. Furthermore, we clearly show that with the current pressure on ecosystem services of Saba, St Eustatius and Bonaire, the TEV of its natural environment will significantly decrease. Therefore, increased support for nature conservation proofs to be a profitable investment in the economy as well as the environment of the three islands. These and other lessons learned in this elaborate study are well documented in a series of extensive online reports and a number of easily accessible policy briefs communicating the outcomes of the study for each individual island. 

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