Minimizing the impact of a potential oil spill on the ecosystem services of St Eustatius

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When an oil spill occurs responsible authorities can choose from a number of response options to reduce the adverse impact on ecosystems and related economic interests. The awareness that healthy ecosystems are important for human well-being and prosperity has given rise to the interdisciplinary science of ecosystem services. The ecosystem services approach allows translation of adverse effects of (anthropogenic) pressure on ecosystems into impaired provisioning of these services. When a spill occurs, a response option to protect one service may negatively influence other ecosystem services. An example is the application of oil spill dispersants to prevent an oil slick from smothering birds, mangroves or marshes yet this decision will increase exposure of organisms in the water column. In addition, there are indications that under particular conditions dispersants can enhance the sedimentation of oil, resulting in the smothering of benthic ecosystems (as may have been the case in the Deepwater Horizon blow-out). Having knowledge of the ecosystem services present, understanding of how ecosystems provide these services by linking them to quantifiable key ecological parameters, and revealing how emergency responses will affect these services under specific spill conditions is the basis of a Net Environmental and Economic Benefit Analysis (NEEBA)-based decision support tool (DST). This project aims to apply the ecosystem services approach and to develop a NEEBA-based DST to optimize the response in case of an oil spill around the Dutch Caribbean island St Eustatius.