What social and economic goods and services does the ocean provide?

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entomomania eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ecosystem services are benefits provided to humans from the natural environment. Oceans provide enormous benefits to people valued at 21 trillion dollars annually, 60% of the estimated value of the entire biosphere (Costanza, 1999). 


The ocean is a rich nutritional source, and fishing not only provides food for people living in coastal areas, but it also is the basis for the economies of many countries. People in these areas depend on the sea for their nutrition and their livelihoods.

Tourism, Entertainment Value and Travel

People are naturally drawn to the sea, and enjoy vacationing in coastal areas. Proximity to the ocean boosts the economies of coastal areas by drawing in tourism dollars and expanding industries supported by tourism. We also use the ocean as an efficient method of travel, especially for large cargo ships transporting goods.

Medicine and Technologies

We have many medical products and technologies derived from or inspired by life in the ocean. An important example is horseshoe crab blood, which is used to test vaccines for bacterial contamination. There are also a number of medicines derived from corals and algaes that are used to treat asthma, arthritis and even some cancers. The thin but incredibly strong coating of slime on hagfish has inspired scientists to investigate its properties and try to develop similar protective products for everyday human use.

Water cycling

The cycling of water between earth and the atmosphere depends on large amounts of surface water that can readily evaporate and then rain back down onto the ground. Without the oceans, we would not have enough surface water and the earth would become a desert.

Protection against global warming

Excess carbon dioxide in the atomosphere leads to global warming. The oceans, particularly coastal areas, trap and store carbon dioxide (CO2), thereby providing a buffer against climate change. Destruction of healthy coastal habitats and loss of their ecosystem service would cause the rate of warming to rise.

Converting energy from the sun

Energy is absorbed from the sun and converted into a form that animals can use by photosynthetic organisms. The ocean surface is a field of photosynthetic algae that accounts for 35% of all primary production on earth (Costanza, 1999). 


We have currently discovered only a fraction of the diversity of life in the ocean. We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the ocean floor (Copley, 2014). Biodiversity is of course important for supporting and sustaining healthy fisheries, but it serves humanity in other ways as well. First is the idea of the intrinsic value of nature- that it has value in and of itself, simply by existing. Most people are fascinated by the ocean and the mysteries it holds, and there is value in our enjoyment of exploring and experiencing the sea, or in experiencing the art, music, and literature it inspires. As mentioned above, ocean life has provided many solutions to health and technology issues faced by humans. Few may have expected the hagfish to be so valuable to people, and this serves as a reminder that we never know which species will hold the key to the issues we face. The enormous diversity of ocean life can be viewed as a rich source of untapped and unidentified resources, and therefore we should preserve the maximum biodiversity rather than risk throwing away a species before we know its potential to serve humanity.


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