Conservation International

Cultural Services


The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment defines human well-being as all of the elements one needs to  have a 'good life,' including both the basic needs for survival (such as food, water and shelter) and cultural, spiritual and personal needs. These latter 'cultural services' are a valued element of what nature provides to humanity. Examples include

  • In coastal Belize, spiritual traditions of several Garifuna communities draw upon rituals related to the use of marine resources.

  • In Madagascar, CI's work to capture the recreational value of nature tourism for local and foreign visitors has significantly increased the number of local people benefiting from tourism, while also strengthening the management structure of newly declared protected areas.

  • In Guatemala, indigenous peoples are working to ensure that their worldviews and rights are accounted for in communal land titling and its incorporation into the national protected area system.

  • In Venezuela, Morrocoy National Park marine protected area was established to protect sacred sites, and has also helped minimize threats from overfishing, development and pollution.

  • Protected areas in Brazil's Amazonas State draw three times more money into the state economy from tourism than would extensive cattle ranching, the most likely alternative use for park lands.

  • And support for traditional management practices has led to maintenance and even revitalization of natural resources in areas ranging from coastal Kaya forests in Kenya, to sacred groves in India and Ghana, to taboo areas in Fiji and New Caledonia.

Nature directly contributes to cultural and spiritual needs, freedom and choice, livelihoods, recreation, good social relations and security.

IN DEPTH: Discover some of the key success CI has made through working with community partners.

Often, these services are most immediately relevant to people who live in close relationship with nature. Sacred sites, for instance, are probably humanity's oldest form of conservation, representing a voluntary choice by landowners to forego other uses in favor of the cultural benefits provided by their protection. But direct cultural services from nature are also important to people who live far from intact natural areas; for instance, there is a global benefit simply in the knowledge that the Amazon rainforest or Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) exist.

Direct cultural services from nature in turn support and drive market activities like tourism, investment in conservation and policies that can be harnessed to increase the overall scope of benefits and address issues of the equitable sharing of those benefits.

Finally, people's ability to interact with nature and benefit from the full set of ecosystem services depends on a set of cultural security issues, including rights, tenure, access to resources, respect for traditional knowledge and the fair distribution of benefits.

CI has protected the ecosystems and biodiversity that underpin cultural services for many years. Our work within the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program has built a broad range of partnerships, as well as strengthened CI's own understanding of the links between culture, human rights, security issues and conservation.

Conservation agreements and the Conservation Stewards Program were explicitly developed as a means to ensure continued conservation of biodiversity by sharing benefits with local decision makers. Our strategy for work in tourism has been refined over two decades, with a clear understanding of the link to aesthetic, existence and other cultural values, as well as the most strategic ways to ensure local benefit.

FEATURE: Ecuador and 'Forest Partners'

CI will work to identify and highlight the important cultural benefits provided by nature, help ensure that the value of these benefits is included in decision making and development strategies, and support the delivery of ecosystem services more broadly through leadership in:

  • Governance systems and policies that secure the rights and benefits of local people related to natural resource management
  • Cultural practices that contribute to healthy natural systems and biodiversity
  • Direct cultural services from nature
  • Markets and policies supported by direct cultural services, especially tourism value chains, conservation agreements and conservation areas

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