Ecosystem services

While the idea that humans benefit from nature is not new, the concept of “ecosystem services” has been evolving since the 1970s, gaining increasing momentum in recent years. 

In 2003, the United Nations released a wide-ranging report called the “Millennium Ecosystem Assessment,” which examined the worldwide decline in ecosystem services. It elaborated on this basic definition: Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include:

  • Provisioning services, such as food and water; 
  • Regulating services, such as regulation of floods, drought, land degradation and disease; 
  • Supporting services, such as soil formation and nutrient cycling; and 
  • Cultural services, such as recreational, spiritual, religious and nonmaterial benefits.

Source: 2015 Puget Sound Fact Book

Whale watching boat in Puget Sound.


Ecosystem services in Puget Sound

Ecosystem services are the “outputs” and experiences of ecosystems that benefit humans, and are generated by the structure and function of natural systems, often in combination with human activities. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a global effort to catalog and assess ecosystem status and functions, offers a useful classification scheme.


Puget Sound shoreline at sunset. Photo by Jeff Rice. All rights reserved.

Sensing liminal landscapes in Puget Sound

Puget Sound's shorelines are "liminal landscapes" that can inspire senses of "escape, transformation, and human creativity," according to a 2021 paper in GeoJournal. That may have regional policy implications as coastal researchers increasingly recognize the need to incorporate community inclusion and 'sense of place' in management decisions. The paper includes findings from a 12-county survey aimed at gauging residents’ sense of place for Puget Sound’s liminal shorelines.


A comparative study of human well-being indicators across three Puget Sound regions

A 2016 paper in the journal Society and Natural Resources looks at the creation of human well-being indicators across three regions in the Puget Sound watershed. The author suggests that overarching domains for these indictors might be applied more broadly in other environmental contexts. 

Visual representation of Human Wellbeing domains for marine policy.

A holistic framework for identifying human wellbeing indicators for marine policy

A 2015 paper in the journal Marine Policy identifies six domains of human wellbeing related to the natural environment. The domains were developed based on case studies in Washington's Hood Canal and Olympic Coast regions.

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The Values of Place: Recreation and Cultural Ecosystem Services in Puget Sound

Coastal recreation, tourism, and ethical or existence values are among the most important ecosystem service (ES) benefits identified by Puget Sound stakeholders (Iceland et al, 2008). The ecosystem services (ES) concept has become the leading framework to understand and communicate the human dimensions of environmental change. This report focuses on economic, social and cultural values inextricably linked to ES benefits in the context of ongoing efforts to restore and protect the Sound.

Social scientists will monitor several of the Puget Sound Partership's "Vital Signs" including Healthy Human Population and Human Quality of Life.

Recommended social indicators for the Puget Sound Partnership: A report summarizing lessons from three local case studies

A 2014 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute identifies 23 potential indicators of human wellbeing in the Puget Sound region. These indicators will inform the adoption of Human Quality of Life "Vital Signs" by the Puget Sound Partnership.

Olympia oysters. Photo: VIUDeepBay (CC BY 2.0)

Gifts from the sea: shellfish as an ecosystem service

The region's famed mollusks provide more than just money and jobs. They offer what are called ecosystem services—a wide variety of benefits that humans derive from an ecosystem.


Interacting coastal based ecosystem services— recreation and water quality in Puget Sound

This paper uses water quality data to examine the relationship between environmental condition and recreational use of parks in Puget Sound.