NEW ORLEANS — The cost of coastal restoration is more than just the price of building a restoration project, and the benefits include more than just providing some new wildlife habitat.

That was part of the message at a Challenges of Natural Resource Economics and Policy conference here this week focusing on the science behind the social and economic aspects of coastal restoration.

The research in this socioeconomic field is important because it can provide a true cost and benefit to any proposed coastal restoration project and help better prioritize where to spend limited money, said Rex Caffey, co-chairman for this year’s conference. Caffey is professor and director of the Center for Natural Resource Economics and Policy at LSU.

Adding the social and economic costs and benefits to the biology, geology and other physical sciences means residents and policy makers can get a much better look at the trade-offs that could be necessary in choosing one project over another, he said.

Part of that work is putting a value on benefits that ecosystem restoration can provide, such as fisheries habitat, storm surge protection and more, Caffey said. He said that can be done by prioritizing and even putting a dollar sign on each function.

Although placing dollar values on ecosystem functions is very difficult, Caffey said, it’s important to make an effort to do it.

“It’s something we can’t ignore,” Caffey said. “It helps show where the values are, the winners and losers.”

In addition, the work at valuing wetlands — either by setting priorities or by a dollar value — is a way to make better decisions on how to spend restoration money, he said.

“What can we really do to apply the resources in the most effective way?” he asked.

Caffey also said it’s not enough to just compare the cost of building one acre of marsh through river diversions or one acre of marsh through the placing of dredged sediment. Policy makers must look at the question of when that acre of marsh will be built and what benefit that could provide over time, he said.

Research presented at the conference, which continues Tuesday, includes various topics from the economics of fisheries to research that tries to quantify the human benefit of ecosystem restoration.