Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Value of Coral Reefs

By Monica Perez Nevarez

In order for people to realize the economic importance of coastal ecosystem conservation, Graham Castillo of Estudios Tecnicos Inc. recently released a study giving a monetary value to coral reefs in Puerto Rican waters. The study valued coral reefs at $1.6 billion dollars and includes all the different uses that one can attribute to them, including the resources, services, and passive value they offer. From being a safe-haven to smaller fish, they provide food and shelter and sustain a wide variety of marine plants and animals. As for humans, reefs attract sportsmen and women, fishermen and tourists alike.

Clownfish and Anemone http://flickr.com/photos/thailandbeach/429304694/

Castillo, who analyzed eight natural reserve areas from the point of view of their economic value, including the islands of Vieques and Culebra, stated that for the tourism sector alone, the reefs had a value of $700 million. Of that figure, $300 million are derived from hotel-related activities. He stressed the importance of mitigating the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, as this causes the sea to become acidic, which could potentially kill most of the existing reefs.

Culebra http://flickr.com/photos/iqqmut/2796810164/

The economist went on to say that “activities centered on coral reefs are the main source of recreation for tourists, especially scuba diving and snorkeling”. In addition, “protecting Puerto Rico’s coastal areas represents a value of $10 million dollars because that is where most of the island’s land-based tourism takes place, especially in the beaches, mangroves, and tidal pools”.

The study, formally known as Economic Valuation of Coral Reefs and Associated Resources in Eastern Puerto Rico: Fajardo, Cordillera Reefs, Culebra and Vieques, was published during the “Conversatiorio de Arrecfes de Coral”, or Forum on Coral Reefs which the Department of Natural Resources sponsored last August.

Scuba Diving http://flickr.com/photos/coismarbella/2844649950/in/pool-25751933@N00

Local fishing was valued at $450 million a year; services, investigation and education received $1 million in value, and $10 million were granted for costal protection, while $700 million was attributed to tourism and recreation. Passive value (existing, future, inheritable, and biodiversity) totaled $899 million. “This measures the disposition of a person paying for the resource” said Castillo. Besides giving the reefs a monetary value, the study “is a reference for legislative budget decisions” regarding the use of these resources. Castillo went on to suggest more services, investigation and education should be funded in order to conserve the reefs properly.

Coral Reef Ecosystem http://flickr.com/photos/coismarbella/2848366480/in/pool-25751933@N00

Over 500 million people worldwide depend on marine ecosystems to feed themselves, protect their homes and businesses from hurricanes, as well as for their enjoyment or recreation; and yet very little money is spent in safeguarding the coastal zones and maritime ecosystems that are so vital to both tourists and locals alike. Castillo hoped the study would open the eyes of legislators and tourism related business owners, so that conservation of this most delicate of resources became part of the economic and business agenda.