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NCCOS Project

Changes to Non-market Values Associated with Changes in Natural Resource Attributes for the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

This project began in April 2014 and was completed in September 2016

The coast of Washington is home to diverse marine and intertidal communities valued for their aesthetic and recreational benefits. Our work improved understanding about how the value of these ecosystem benefits may change if natural resources degrade or improve with new management approaches, helping resource managers better sustain and improve the region’s marine resources.

Why We Care

The Pacific coast of Washington includes Gray’s Harbor, Willapa Bay, numerous state parks, and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS). It encompasses a wide variety of habitats from extremely biodiverse intertidal zones to submarine canyons. The region is also a productive upwelling zone that is home to marine mammals and seabirds. Along its shores are thriving kelp and intertidal communities, teeming with fish and other sea life. On the seafloor, scattered communities of deep sea coral and sponges form habitats for fish and other marine wildlife.


In addition to important ecological resources, the Pacific coast has a rich cultural and historical legacy. Over two hundred shipwrecks have been documented in the area. The region is also home to the Makah Tribe, Quileute Tribe, Hoh Tribe, and Quinault Nation, each of which have strong cultural ties to the coastal and ocean environment.


Coastal development, human usage of natural resources, natural and technological stressors, and the implementation of new management practices can each alter the condition of ecological systems. Changes to ecological systems could affect the quality and availability of socially valued natural resource attributes. For example, changing ecosystems could lead to declines in wildlife populations, such as fish, seabird, and marine mammal populations that many people value for recreational sightseeing on the Pacific coast. Changes to important resource attributes can affect the public’s perceived value of the coast. From a policy and management standpoint, spatially explicit data on the locations that people value the most, for a variety of reasons, helps with planning, such as with Washington State’s efforts at implementing marine spatial planning.


What We Did

We surveyed Washington State households to collect information on residents’ outdoor recreation activities, expenditures, tastes and preferences, and willingness-to-pay for improvements to natural resource attributes, such as marine mammals and shoreline quality. More specifically, we:

  • Identified the natural resources of most importance to residents.
  • Gathered information on potential changes in non-market values for natural resource attributes of importance to residents of Washington.
  • Determined how possible changes in natural resource attributes influence non-market values held for important ecosystem services along Washington’s outer coast.
  • Developed maps showing the spatial distribution of biological and ecological resources identified as important by residents of Washington.
  • Developed maps showing the spatial distribution of outdoor recreational activities that residents of Washington engaged in.

What We Found

We found that clean water and unobstructed views from development are the two most valuable natural resource attributes to residents. Related to wildlife, residents most liked cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises, and orcas), pinnipeds (sea lions and seals) and raptors (eagles and hawks). In addition, ecological worldview and experience with the region were found to be the main predictors of residents’ value for natural resource attributes. Finally, by looking at visitation patterns, we found that households close to the coast spend more time there but mostly as day-trips, while inland residents take longer trips. Recreational use intensity was generally higher in the more developed southern portion of the study area and positively correlated with the concentration of tourism amenities. The types of recreational activities most frequently engaged in included shore-based activities, sightseeing, wildlife viewing, and surface water sport activities.

Benefits of Our Work

Collectively, the information, spatial data, and maps created from this project helped natural resource managers understand how residents use and value the Pacific coast. Knowing this will help them to assess trade-offs that arise during the marine spatial planning process.

Project partners included NCCOS, the State of Washington, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Additional Resources

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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