Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Evaluating current and changing recreational services of marine ecosystems: tourist’s valuation of climate change impacts

Marine ecosystems are constantly going through gradual changes. These changes affect economic sectors dependent on marine ecosystem services and consequently the well-being of humans using the marine environment. Decision makers need information about the impact of such changes on human welfare and in particular about the changes in the value of marine ecosystems to make well-informed decisions1.

This study attempts to both identify and quantify some of the key manifestations of one of the important drivers on marine recreational ecosystem services. Hence, we determined the recreational value of changes as a result of climate change in the Wadden Sea ecosystem. This study employs two methods:

  1. The travel cost method to value the current (use) value of the Wadden Islands to tourists
  2. A choice experiment to estimate the (use and non-use) value tourists ascribe to the projected change in ecosystem services.


Tourists are willing to pay a significant amount to prevent the effects of strong climate change on the ecosystem in the Wadden Sea. Neglecting tourists’ signals of their appreciation of seals, birds and an open landscape, potentially reduces the value that tourists assign to the Wadden Sea.

The changes due to climate change were presented by five attributes: number of birds, seals, pacific oysters, the presence of wind turbines and tourist tax. The selection was based on the motivations of tourists visiting the Wadden Sea123 and the expectation that the attributes will be affected by climate change.

The estimated Willingness to Pay (WTP) values range between 2,50 euro and 7,50 euro (Figure 1, interpret the WTP values as the WTP to avoid respectively a strong decrease in number of birds, decrease in number of seals and placement of wind turbines close to the coast). The study revealed that the presence of a high number of birds in the Wadden Sea area is an important attribute for tourists. The non-market benefits for tourists to avoid a decrease in number of seals are lower, but still substantial.

Aggregation of the values indicated that the non-market marginal benefits of avoiding the effects of the strong climate scenario is approximately 80 million euros per year. This suggests that the Wadden Islands will lose substantial value for tourists in a situation of strong climate change, illustrated by a strong decrease in birds a moderate decrease of seals and by wind turbines that will be placed close by the islands.

Tourists are willing to pay much less to avoid the low climate scenario, indicating that the loss of value for tourists in a situation of moderate climate change will be minor.


The current value of the Dutch Wadden Islands for tourists is approximately 450 million euro per year. The results show that tourists value the Wadden Islands as a tourist location and that they are prepared to spend a substantial amount of money to visit the Wadden Islands.

The estimation is done by conducting a travel cost study on the Wadden island Ameland. The Willingness To Pay per trip to the Wadden Islands for households is estimated between 601-635 euro, depending on the inclusion of travel time. Aggregating this, results in a value between 435-460 million euro.

The aggregated value of the travel cost study is comparable to the estimated turnover of the tourist sector on the Wadden Islands (as well 450 million euro). However, the total value will be probably higher than estimated, since not all the extra expenditures of tourists such as restaurant visits and museum visits are incorporated in the value of the travel cost study.

We estimated the current value of the Wadden Sea for tourists in order to compare the results with the changes in value. Although comparing is methodologically not completely correct, it gives an indication of the extent of change in value. The results indicate that the WTP to avoid changes due to climate change is maximum 17% of the total value of the Wadden Sea for tourists.

When comparing the travel costs with the travel costs of the Catalonian case study4, the travel costs of the Wadden Sea case study are lower (probably because of the lower amount of international visitors). However, the expenditures in the Wadden Sea case study are higher.


The attitude towards wind turbines differs substantially between Dutch and German respondents. This demonstrates that it is recommendable to take cultural differences into account while formulating policy56.

German respondents were willing to pay approximately seven times less to avoid wind turbines than Dutch respondents, while we do not see a significant difference between Dutch and German respondents for the other attributes (Fig. 2). The current German policy on renewable energy7, familiarity with wind energy and the fact that the wind turbines will be located on Dutch territory can possibly explain this difference.

The Catalonian case study observed differences between the impact of wind turbines on type of beach users as well. Policy makers can make use of information on preference heterogeneity to differentiate policies.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Directive
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • Habitats and Birds Directive
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive
Data availability:

Where it is held: Deltares kennis online, Wadden Academy.


Lead Author:

Femke Schasfoort
Date of research: April 2014

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Fish stock location and international agreements

Functional responses of herring and sprat to prey 

Habitat suitability of native and invasive species 

How to improve governance in the Gulf of Gdansk?

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.