TESSA: A tool to assess the benefits of nature
Wetlands are found all over the world and include ecosystems such as swamps, marshes, lakes, lagoons, mangroves, coral reefs, and peatlands. To some up just a few of their benefits: they purify and store water, they reduce the impact of floods and coastal erosion, and they provide habitats for wildlife and plants. They are particularly important in Mediterranean coastal areas: they occupy approximately 2% of the total surface of the Mediterranean while hosting more than 30% of the basin’s vertebrate species.
Our allies against the climate crisis
Unfortunately, these precious coastal ecosystems are one of the most threatened on the planet. In the Mediterranean, 48% of wetlands have been destroyed in the last 50 years and 36% of wetland-dependent species threatened by extinction. This is mainly due to drainage, land conversion along coastal development and agricultural water abstraction. Healthy wetlands are important carbon sinks as they store and sequester carbon and prevent it from being released in the atmosphere. But when coastal wetlands are degraded or converted, they emit greenhouse gases, accelerating the climate crisis. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to preserve, restore, and protect these unique ecosystems as they have countless benefits for wildlife and people alike.
A tool to assess nature’s benefits
As wetlands are crucial to fight the climate and biodiversity emergencies, we must improve their land use and natural resources management. For this, decision-makers, notably policy-makers, need to be informed about the assets and benefits nature provides to people. Therefore TESSA, the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment was created. TESSA provides wetland managers, conservation practitioners, and the private sector with a step-by-step guidance on practical methods to assess and value these crucial benefits (ecosystem services) at a site as well as how to present and communicate on these results to influence decision-making. The methods and approaches presented in this toolkit have been thoroughly tested in different contexts and countries of the world, including through the experience with Mediterranean coastal wetlands described below.
This collaborative application has allowed improving the existing content of the Toolkit, such as simplifying certain method descriptions and adding more worked examples in selected modules. Furthermore, a new section has been added on natural capital accounting that introduces natural capital stocks in relation to ecosystem service flows. Along with these additions to TESSA, a new visually revamped version 3.0 is now available where all the contents are presented in one interactive PDF document for increased usability and greater policy impact.
TESSA in practice
BirdLife International supported project partners to apply TESSA at four Mediterranean coastal wetlands in Montenegro (Ulcinj Salina), Sardinia (Oristano), Tunisia (Ghar El Melh), and Spain (Bahía de Cádiz). The goal was to assess the ecosystem services and value their benefits at each of these key sites, designated as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). This enabled our collaborative Partners CZIP (Montenegro), MEDSEA (Sardinia), AAO (Tunisia) , and SEO/BirdLife (Spain) to inform policy makers and provide first recommendations. For example, in Montenegro the results were considered for the development of a management plan for Ulcinj salina, and in Sardinia the economic assessment at a site along with qualitative assessment at other Sardinian sites served as pilots to inform decision-makers in the relevant setting of the Maristanis Coastal Wetland Contract (MCWC) and will be added in the official documents for the future regional park of the Maristanis Wetlands.
Understanding the benefits of Mediterranean wetlands is crucial, as one third of the Mediterranean population lives by the coast. According to Moujib Gabous, the Project Coordinator of Association “Les Amis des Oiseaux” (AAO/BirdLife Tunisia) : “We have used TESSA to assess the ecosystem services of the site and to better understand how to increase the benefits through sustainable development. These results helped raise awareness among the local population and is currently helping decision-makers to make sustainable choices for the future of the lagoon of Ghar El Melh.”
TESSA aims to find the balance between the accessibility and utility of developing convincing information for decision-makers. As such, it enables non-experts to use less complex methods, while still providing scientifically robust information. “The TESSA toolkit is very easy to use. You do not have to be an expert in ecosystem services assessment to use it. The data obtained were used to help develop a preliminary management plan for the saltpan of Ulcinj Salina at the Adriatic Sea, which was designated in 2019 as a protected area.”, says Marija Stanišić, Project Coordinator of CZIP.
Also, Vania Statzu, Environmental Economist at MEDSEA (Mediterranean Sea and Coast Foundation), stated: “We demonstrated to local stakeholders the importance of preserving the area to increase benefits to people. I like TESSA, as it uses relatively easy multidisciplinary approaches for collecting information, when official data are lacking, and it gives the step-by-step guidance on not only monetary but also non-monetary valuation, such as to value spiritual and cultural benefits provided by the wetlands.”
The summary reports of the TESSA applications in Spain and Sardinia show that where Nature-based Solutions (NbS) were deployed instead of business-as-usual infrastructure, considerable benefits in terms of global climate regulation as well as coastal and inland flooding protection would be achieved.
For example, the abandoned saltpans within the Bahía de Cádiz Nature Park could be restored to natural marshes beside dune preservation along the coastline to achieve a higher level of ecosystem services for the area compared to the simple recovery of saltworks or fishing activities. In the Gulf of Oristano, the NbS scenario interventions (i.e., sand trapping, protective screens and replanting of trees and other native plants for dune and pinewood restoration) were based on what the municipalities involved had already included in the MCWC mentioned above. For the marine part of the site, replanting of native seagrass species Posidionia oceanica was proposed for its natural barrier effect alongside additional beach renourishment.
Have a look at TESSA posters and summaries here.
Image credits: ©Yves Adams
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