In 2004, following rapid growth in the science and practice of marine conservation, I published a review of marine conservation planning cases and specifically investigated how natural and social sciences contributed to the articulation of the planning goals, approaches, and targets for conservation action. ‘Ecosystem services’ was nearly absent from these cases (Leslie 2004, Conservation Biology). Thus, as of early 2000s, there had been very little uptake of ecosystem services, at least in the context of planning for biodiversity conservation in coastal and marine systems. Now, more than 15 years later, we have observed the establishment of a journal devoted to ecosystems services and publication of hundreds of empirical analyses of ecosystem service trade offs in the policy and peer reviewed literatures. We also witnessed the release of two national-level reports (by the Pew Ocean Commission, 2003 and the US Commission on Ocean Policy, 2004) that invoked ecosystem-based management and conservation of multiple coastal values (i.e., ecosystem services) as foundational concepts for effective marine stewardship. There have been a number of scholarly books devoted to this topic in the last decade, as well, including Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans (2009, Island Press).
Given this scientific and policy context, it seems an apt time to ask: How significant a role is the concept and science of ecosystem services playing in the planning and implementation of coastal and marine management? and How does the apparent rise in interest and application of ecosystem services science relate to the changing discourse and practice of conservation of marine biodiversity? I will report on two complementary datasets that address these questions, and illustrate key findings with case studies from the US and Mexico. I will close with a reflection on prospects for further integration of ecosystem services science in the planning and practice of marine conservation in the 21st century.