Assessing natural capital value in the network of Italian marine protected areas: a comparative approach

Elvira Buonocore, Giovanni F. Russo, Pier Paolo Franzese



Marine and coastal natural capital stocks provide a bundle of ecosystem services vital for human well-being. The biophysical and economic assessment of the value of natural capital stocks is much needed for achieving nature conservation goals, while ensuring the sustainable exploitation of marine resources. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are increasingly being established worldwide to protect and conserve natural capital stocks from anthropogenic threats. In this study, a biophysical and trophodynamic model based on the emergy accounting method was used to assess the value of natural capital for a set of Italian MPAs. In particular, the assessment focused on four main macro-habitats: 1) sciaphilic hard bottom (SHB), 2) photophilic hard bottom (PHB), 3) soft bottom (SB), and 4) Posidonia oceanica seagrass beds (PSB). The emergy method allowed the assessment of natural capital stocks in terms of direct and indirect solar energy flows invested by nature for their generation. The SHB habitat showed the highest emergy density value in most of the investigated MPAs, confirming the high convergence of input resource flows in the formation of this habitat. When considering extensive indicators, the contribution of the PSB habitat to the total value of natural capital was higher than other habitats in most MPAs. In addition, to facilitate the understanding of the results in socio-economic contexts, the biophysical values of natural capital stocks were converted into monetary units. The total value of natural capital in the investigated MPAs ranged from about 8 to 1163 M€. In conclusion, assessing the value of natural capital can support local managers and policy makers in charge for achieving nature conservation targets while ensuring the sustainable exploitation of natural resources.


environmental accounting; natural capital; marine ecosystems; marine protected areas

Full Text:



Appolloni L., Ferrigno F., Russo G.F., Sandulli R., 2020a. β-Diversity of morphological groups as indicator of coralligenous community quality status. Ecological Indicators 109: 105840.

Appolloni L., Buonocore E., Russo G.F., Franzese, P.P., 2020b. The use of remote sensing for monitoring posidonia oceanica and marine protected areas: A systemic review. Ecological Questions 31(2): 7-17.

Armoškaitė A., Puriņa I., Aigars J., Strāķe S., Pakalniete K., Frederiksen P., Schrøder L., H.S. Hansen, 2020. Establishing the links between marine ecosystem components, functions and services: An ecosystem service assessment tool. Ocean & Coastal Management 193: 105229.

Barbier E., 2014. Economics: Account for depreciation of natural capital. Nature 515: 32–33.

Berrios F., Campbell D.E., Ortiz M., 2017. Emergy evaluation of benthic ecosystems influenced by upwelling in northern Chile: contributions of the ecosystems to the regional economy. Ecological Modelling 359: 146-164.

Brown M.T., Ulgiati S., 2004. Emergy Analysis and Environmental Accounting. In: Encyclopedia of Energy, C. Cleveland Editor, Academic Press, Elsevier, Oxford, UK, pp. 329-354.

Brown M.T., Ulgiati S., 2010. Updated evaluation of exergy and emergy driving the geobiosphere: A review and refinement of the emergy baseline. Ecological Modelling 221: 2501–2508.

Brown M.T., Campbell D.E., De Vilbiss C., Ulgiati S., 2016a. The geobiosphere emergy baseline: A synthesis. Ecological Modelling 339: 92-95.

Brown M.T., Campbell D.E., Ulgiati S., Franzese P.P., 2016b. The geobiosphere emergy baseline: A synthesis. Ecological Modelling 339: 89-91.

Buonocore E., Picone F., Russo G.F., Franzese P.P., 2018. The Scientific Research On Natural Capital: A Bibliometric Network Analysis. Journal of Environmental Accounting and Management 6(4): 374-384.

Buonocore, E., Picone, F., Donnarumma, L., Russo, G. F., Franzese P. P., 2019. Modeling matter and energy flows in marine ecosystems using emergy and eco-exergy methods to account for natural capital value. Ecological Modelling 392: 137–146.

Buonocore E., Donnarumma L., Appolloni L., Russo G.F., Franzese P.P., 2020. Marine natural capital and ecosystem services: An environmental accounting model. Ecological Modelling 424, 109029.

Campbell D.E., Lu H., Lin B.L., 2014. Emergy evaluations of the global biogeochemical cycles of six biologically active elements and two compounds. Ecological Modelling 271: 32-51.

Cattaneo-Vietti R., Bo M., Cannas R., Cau A., Follesa C., Meliadò E., Russo G.F., Sandulli R., Santangelo G., Bavestrello G. (2016). An overexploited Italian treasure: past and present distribution and exploitation of the precious red coral Corallium rubrum (L., 1758) (Cnidaria: Anthozoa). Italian Journal of Zoology, vol. 83, no. 4, pp. 443-455.

Cavanagh R.D., Broszeit S., Pilling G.M., Grant S.M., Murphy E.J., Austen M.C., 2016 Valuing biodiversity and ecosystem services: a useful way to manage and conserve marine resources? Proc. R. Soc. B 283: 20161635.

Chan K.M., Balvanera P., Benessaiah K., Chapman M., Díaz S., Gomez-Baggethun E., Gould, R., Hannahs N., Jax K., Klain, S., 2016. Opinion: why protect nature? Rethinking values and the environment. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 113: 1462-1465.

Christie M., Remoundou K., Siwicka E., Wainwright W., 2015. Valuing marine and coastal ecosystem service benefits: Case study of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ proposed marine protected areas. Ecosystem Services 11: 115-127.

de Virgilio M., Cifarelli S., de Gennaro P., Garofoli G., Degryse B., 2020. A first attempt of citizen science in the genetic monitoring of a Posidonia oceanica meadow in the Italian Southern Adriatic Sea. Journal for Nature Conservation 56: 125826.

Donnarumma L., Sandulli R., Appolloni L., Di Stefano F., Russo G. F., 2018. Morpho-structural and ecological features of a shallow vermetid bioconstruction in the tyrrhenian sea (mediterranean sea, italy). Journal of Sea Research 131, 61-68.

Ferrigno F., Russo G.F., Sandulli R., 2017. Coralligenous bioconstructions quality index (CBQI): A synthetic indicator to assess the status of different types of coralligenous habitats. Ecological Indicators 82: 271-279.

Franzese P.P., Russo G.F., Ulgiati S., 2008. Modelling the interplay of environment, economy and resources in Marine Protected Areas. A case study in Southern Italy. Ecological Questions 10: 91-97.

Franzese P.P., Rydberg T., Russo G.F., Ulgiati S., 2009. Sustainable biomass production: A comparison between Gross Energy Requirement and Emergy Synthesis methods. Ecological Indicators 9 (5): 959-970.

Franzese P.P., Brown M.T., Ulgiati S., 2014. Environmental accounting: Emergy, systems ecology, and ecological modelling. Ecological Modelling 271: 1-3.

Franzese P.P., Buonocore E., Paoli C., Massa F., Stefano D., Fanciulli G., et al., 2015. Environmental Accounting in Marine Protected Areas: the EAMPA Project. Journal of Environmental Accounting and Management 3(4): 324-332.

Franzese P.P., Buonocore E., Donnarumma L., Russo G.F., 2017. Natural capital accounting in marine protected areas: The case of the Islands of Ventotene and S. Stefano (Central Italy). Ecological Modelling 360: 290-299.

Halpern B.S., 2003. Impact of marine reserves: Do reserves work and does reserve size matter? Ecological Applications 13: 117-137.

Halpern B.S, Walbridge S., Selkoe K.A., Kappel C.V., Micheli F., D'Agrosa C., et al., 2008. A Global Map of Human Impact on Marine Ecosystems. Science 319: 948-952.

Halpern B.S., Frazier M., Afflerbach J. et al., 2019. Recent pace of change in human impact on the world’s ocean. Sci Rep 9: 11609.

Hattam C., Atkins J. P., Beaumont N., Börger T., Böhnke-henrichs A., Burdon D., et al., 2015. Marine ecosystem services: Linking indicators to their classification. Ecological Indicators 49: 61-75.

Häyhä T., Franzese P.P., 2014. Ecosystem services assessment: A review under an ecological-economic and systems perspective. Ecological Modelling 289: 124-132.

Ingrosso G., Abbiati M., Badalamenti F., Bavestrello G., Belmonte G., Cannas R. et al., 2018. Mediterranean bioconstructions along the italian coast. Advances in Marine Biology 79: 61-136.

Odum H.T., 1988. Self organization, transformity and information. Science 242: 1132-1139.

Odum H.T., 1994. Ecological and General Systems. An Introduction to Systems Ecology (Revised Edition). University Press of Colorado, 644 pp.

Odum H.T., 1996. Environmental Accounting: Emergy and Environmental Decision Making. John Wiley and Sons. New York, 369 pp.

OECD, 2017. Marine Protected Areas: Economics, Management and Effective Policy Mixes. OECD Publishing, Paris.

Paoli C., Povero P., Burgos E., Dapueto G., Fanciulli G., Massa F., et al., 2018. Natural capital and environmental flows assessment in marine protected areas: The case study of Liguria region (NW Mediterranean Sea). Ecological Modelling 368: 121-135.

Pauna V.H., Picone F., Le Guyader G., Buonocore E., Franzese P.P., 2018. The scientific research on ecosystem services: A bibliometric analysis. Ecological Questions 29 (3): 53-62.

Pauna V.H., Buonocore E., Renzi M., Russo G.F., Franzese P.P., 2019. The issue of microplastics in marine ecosystems: A bibliometric network analysis. Marine Pollution Bulletin 149: 110612.

Picone F., Buonocore E., D’Agostaro R., Donati S., Chemello R., Franzese P.P., 2017. Integrating natural capital assessment and marine spatial planning: A case study in the Mediterranean sea. Ecological Modelling 361: 1-13.

Rasheed A.R., 2020. Marine protected areas and human well-being – A systematic review and Recommendations. Ecosystem Services 41, 101048.

Schumann P.W., Mahon R., 2015. The valuation of marine ecosystem goods and services in the Caribbean: A literature review and framework for future valuation efforts. Ecosystem Services 11: 56-66.

TEEB, 2010. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Local and Regional Policy Makers.

UNEP, 2006. Marine and coastal ecosystems and human well-being: A synthesis report based on the findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. UNEP. 76pp.

UNEP-WCMC and IUCN, 2019. Marine Protected Planet [On-line], [December, 2019], Cambridge, UK: UNEP-WCMC and IUCN Available at:

van Dijk J., Dick J., Harrison P., Jax K., Saarikoski H., Furman E., 2018. Editorial: Operationalisation of natural capital and ecosystem services. Ecosystem Services 29, Part C: 411-414.

Vassallo P., Paoli C., Buonocore E., Franzese P.P., Russo G.F., Povero P., 2017. Assessing the value of natural capital in marine protected areas: A biophysical and trophodynamic environmental accounting model. Ecological Modelling 355: 12-17.

Vihervaara, P., Franzese, P. P., Buonocore, E., 2019. Information, energy, and eco-exergy as indicators of ecosystem complexity. Ecological Modelling 395: 23-27.

Yu H., Wang Y., Li X., Wang C., Sun M., Du A., 2019. Measuring ecological capital: State of the art, trends, and challenges. Journal of Cleaner Production 219: 833-845.

Partnerzy platformy czasopism