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Coastal Capital: Putting a Value on The Caribbean's Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are a vital part of the Caribbean’s marine environment, and are integral to the economies of many of the region’s small island states. WRI's economic valuation methodology can help decision-makers in the region better understand the enormous economic value the reef provides and use this data to make better-informed coastal policy.

Click here to view the full results.

Tourists flock to the region to see the beautiful beaches and marine life these biologically rich habitats support. Local fishermen rely on healthy reefs as a source of food and livelihood. In addition, reefs act as natural barriers to protect the islands from the worst ravages of tropical storms.

The proper management of the Caribbean’s Coastal Capital is essential for the region’s economic and environmental health.

Yet government officials, developers and the public often overlook or do not fully appreciate the harmful effects coral reef degradation, resulting in short-sighted decisions about coastal investment, development and land use. Knowledge of the economic values stemming from coral reefs supports sustainable planning which maximizes the long-term economic potential of coastal areas.

But a clear presentation of the economic value derived from coral reefs can guide the sustainable use of these resources.

The World Resources Institute, in collaboration with government and NGO partners in St. Lucia, Tobago and Belize, has developed an economic valuation methodology to quantify the value of coral reefs in the Caribbean more accurately. The methodology supports the evaluation of trade-offs, thereby highlighting the management and development paths which protect coral reefs, and maximize the economic contribution of coral reefs to the economy.

Our Excel-based Economic Valuation Tool guides users through a simple method that does not assess Total Economic Value (TEV), but instead focuses on three key goods and services: coral reef-associated tourism, fisheries, and shoreline protection services. Read more about the methodology

The tool evaluates the economic impact of both coral reef-associated tourism and fisheries with a financial analysis method that tracks the financial flows and wider economic impact these two industries generate.

Shoreline protection is the third aspect of the Economic Valuation Tool. WRI developed an innovative method for evaluating the role of coral reefs in protecting the shoreline. Using a modified avoided damages approach, the tool estimates the total value of reduction in wave-induced erosion and property damage due to coral reefs.

Countries across the Caribbean can use the methodology; and the hope is that its widespread use will support wise, forward-looking coastal policy throughout the region.

WRI has made lower bound (partial) estimates of the economic contribution of coral reefs to the economy of two pilot sites in the Eastern Caribbean: Tobago and St. Lucia. On these two small islands, coral reef tourism alone accounted for direct and indirect economic impact totaling US$101–130 million in Tobago and US$ 160–194 million in St. Lucia.

Ultimately, WRI hopes the project will:

  • Increase local capacity to perform ecosystem valuation and use the valuation results in planning and decision-making;
  • Make the economic case for better coastal and land management, as well as for increased investment in Marine Protected Areas, so that these are viewed as investments for the economic and societal benefits of the country;
  • Arm NGOs and marginalized resource users with powerful information, giving them a greater voice in local decision-making.

For a quick summary of the results, click here. For the full Coastal Capital report, click here. To view maps of the shoreline protection analysis, click here. Click here to learn more about one WRI's project partners, Buccoo Reef Trust.

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