Our Theory of Change

Pohnpei, NCM 09005Mapping Ocean Wealth delivers scientific information in a clear and useful way to aid decision-makers at the local, national and even international levels to better understand the true value of the ocean environments to our lives.

This is not a top-down theory of change. We are not telling stakeholders how they should behave. Instead, we provide stakeholders the maps and data needed to make better, evidence-based ocean-use decisions. Mapping Ocean Wealth builds on existing research and knowledge to demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, the ecological, social and economic impacts of ocean productivity.

Mapping Ocean Wealth is collaborative, open to voices within and beyond the conservation sector, and committed to sharing data and best practices. For us to succeed, to avoid misunderstanding and inefficiency.

Developing the Science

Mapping Ocean Wealth aggregates existing science and uses tools and maps to make science more accessible to audiences at all levels. Higher-resolution models illustrate the value of oceans at broad scales to inform decision-making at the national and international levels. Meanwhile, fine-resolution maps and models improve local planning and management.

WOPA050615_D004Over time, both approaches provide increasingly better information—creating an ever-increasing, ever-improving data set that paints an accurate portrait of the complex role ecosystems services play in our overall well-being.

Mapping Ocean Wealth provides three-stage approach to understanding the value of ocean ecosystems:

1 Review – Detailed and systematic exploration of field data, expert
literature and expert knowledge from around the world to fully understand and accurately describe a particular ecosystem service2 Model –Develop models that demonstrate the value of ecosystem services under varying conditions. “Value” is not always a financial metric, but instead includes harder quantifying measures such as food security, risk reduction, job creation and seafood harvest among others.3 Map – Map these important and valuable services to provide a continuous, geographically relevant tool for ecosystem services.

This approach brings forth an important observation that, while we can always improve our work with more data, there is often enough information out there to serve as the raw materials from which we can build models and maps.

As part of this approach, Mapping Ocean Wealth is also looking at ways ecosystems provide multiple benefits at once and, similarly, how different ecosystems interact to produce something greater than the sum of its parts.

Likewise, we are exploring how ocean ecosystems relate to other sectors to model the trade-offs inherent in decision-making. One consequence of such modeling, we are fully aware, is that decisions will not always result in favor of conservation of ecosystems. However, we believe such “value for value” comparisons are necessary and the best hope for people of varying interest across multiple sectors to find common ground on the larger questions for our society as a whole.

Ultimately, Mapping Ocean Wealth strives to illustrate what protecting—or potentially losing—the ocean means for us all.

To view our scientific publications, go to our Research Library.

To see the maps, go to the Mapping Portal.

We currently offer maps and models for these geographic locations:

Policy and Influence

about us policy & influenceMapping Ocean Wealth’s motivation is precisely to put the value of marine and coastal ecosystem services “on the map,” and into the hands of people who can make a difference. Our goal is for decision-makers worldwide to use the science compiled here—all of it translated into easily accessible language, maps and models—to shape conservation and development policies and investment decisions that take into account the full and true value of our coastal ecosystems to preserve their services and the economies they support for generations to come.

Marine Spatial Planning

Until quite recently, marine planners had limited experience using scientific ecosystem service models to inform marine plans. More and more, however, ecosystem services are appearing in marine plans, a sign that these data are very helpful. In fact, a recent study found 22 locations around the world where ecosystem services information was used in decision-making, including in Indonesia, Belize, Hawaii, Canada, China, USA, Colombia and Tanzania. These encouraging examples point to a growing acceptance and applicability of ecosystem services in marine spatial planning.

Influencing Political institutions

To drive policy and investment in habitat protection and restoration requires policy briefs and materials that convincingly summarize technical work and build compelling practical solutions. Equally important, is publicizing this work where it will have maximum influence, including national and international forums and policy discussions.

Significant opportunities include:

At national and local scales, detailed quantification and valuation of ecosystem services will inform and influence decisions. Success stories at these local scales must then be scaled up to drive wider use.

To read more about our policy please go to the policy briefs section in our Research Library.

Finance and Investment

IMG_4054The combined contribution of the ocean economy has recently been estimated as being in the order of US$1.5–3.0 trillion annually—roughly 3 to 5 percent of global GDP. More countries are looking to the ocean as a new economic frontier. Meanwhile, the ecosystems upon which many ocean economic activities depend are also changing at an unprecedented rate, and not necessarily for the better. Ensuring ocean health is now synonymous with maintaining ocean wealth.

The Blue Economy

The 2014 UN Conference on Sustainable Development first raised the concept of “the blue economy” and the need to stimulate “blue growth,” for island nations and developing countries with significant coastlines and/or maritime areas.

The idea has captured the imagination of policy makers, the United Nations, OECD, development finance organizations such as the World Bank and NGOs. The great challenge for ocean-facing countries and small island developing states will be growing the economy of the oceans while still supporting ecosystems’ health. Better understanding of ocean ecosystems, and particularly of the value of natural marine assets and ecosystem services will help to assess a nation’s ocean wealth, and in doing so better define a pathway to support the growth of a country’s blue economy.


Conservation Application

WOPA081004_D040Marine protected areas (MPAs) are often the tool of choice for marine conservation initiatives and they can play a critical role in
safeguarding ecosystem services. MPAs come in many different forms—from strict nature reserves, which prohibit all extractive activities from an ecosystem, through to loosely managed marine spaces where certain activities continue with only minor sustainability measures in place.

Different circumstances demand different management approaches. MPAs offer a suite of tools which, when appropriately used, greatly enhance ecosystem service provision. The closure of a mangrove forest, for example, may enhance carbon storage and fish production, but it will halt sustainable timbering harvest efforts.

MPAs overall protect just four percent of the world’s ocean surface and are predominately in coastal waters. Further, over 30 percent of certain key ecosystems, such as mangrove forests and coral reefs, now fall within MPAs. It would appear, at first glance, that we are, at the very least, targeting MPAs in the right places, but Mapping Ocean Wealth wanted to know for certain, so we assessed the correlation between MPAs and those areas most important for ecosystem services for both mangroves and coral reefs.

Our findings show a mixed bag: protected areas appear to match well with the coral reefs most important for tourism, but they disproportionately under-protect the reefs needed for coastal storm defense. While 32 percent of the world’s reefs are in MPAs, just 17 percent of their coastal protection value was similarly covered. For fisheries, MPAs are, likewise, falling short.

Clearly, greater effort is needed to protect ecosystem services and our maps and models show there will be direct benefits of conservation. If ecosystem services can be conserved to the greatest benefit of society, and the results keenly felt, it should further encourage conservation.


Habitat loss to coastal development is among the most significant threat to ocean biodiversity and coastal ecosystem health. Coastal wetlands, once perceived as mosquito breeding grounds, have since been ditched, drained or filled to “reclaim” land for coastal development. Oyster reefs, once a dominant feature in estuaries, were preyed upon food, construction materials and fertilizer. Coral reefs were bombed to extract fish or dredged for ship channels and ports. Such losses accompanied the dramatic growth in coastal populations around the world. More than half of the world’s population now lives in coastal regions.

Thankfully, there is greater awareness today that coastal habitats support fisheries, protect us from damaging storm surges and contribute to climate regulation. These services now place coastal and marine habitat restoration as an important priority for coastal communities and businesses. Global and regional assessments, such as Mapping Ocean Wealth, have illuminated the extent of loss and provided motivation for conservation and restoration.

Recognizing the area, or amount of habitat remaining (or lost) is a powerful motivator, but even more powerful is a knowledge about the benefits gained through restoration.   Predicting and documenting ecosystem benefits in quantitative terms—fish populations, shoreline miles protected, carbon sequestered, etc.—is key to appropriately evaluating return on investment realized through restoration.

Ken Nedimyer and Stephanie Roach of Coral Restoration Foundation attach newly fragmented corals to a line nursery in their nursery east of Key Largo, Florida. Outplanted staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) coral after one year of growth. In January 2010 the Conservancy’s U.S. Virgin Islands Coral Restoration program installed its first in-water coral nurseries. Since then the team has successfully propagated over

Image credits: © Nick Hall; © Mark Godfrey; © Tom McCann; © Mark Spalding; © Mark Godfrey; L-R: © Tim Calver; © Kemit Amon- Lewis