Humans have dramatically increased the nitrogen load to coastal systems leading to eutrophication. Putting a monetary value on an ecosystem’s ability to remove nitrogen is effective for communicating the significance of often overlooked shallow water systems that are in decline due to sea level rise, urbanization and bulkhead construction.
Using the common regionally derived dollar value for a standard price for the removal of nitrogen from the environment, University of North Carolina scientists sponsored by the NCCOS Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise Program found that habitats such as submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster reefs provide about $3,000 per acre per year in nitrogen removal services while wetlands provide about $2,500 per acre per year.
Less complex ecosystems such as intertidal flats and subtidal flats provide ecosystems services worth $1,500 and $414 per acre per year respectively. This is information that decision makers can actually utilize to establish shallow water conservation areas and develop habitat restoration plans.