How do people, governments, and corporations “value” ecosystems? And how can you put a price on the vast array of social, economic, and environmental benefits that ecosystems provide?
These are just two of the questions experts sought to address at “The Future of Revaluing Ecosystems,” an event WRI recently convened in Bellagio, Italy, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, Forum for the Future, and the Economist Intelligence Unit. The meeting brought together 32 participants from public, private, non-profit, and research sectors to consider how society could include in public and private decision-making a more complete valuing of the benefits ecosystems provide to people. The discussions shed light on how we can evaluate ecosystems’ true worth to communities and businesses —and how to use these valuations to foster better environmental stewardship.
Governments, corporations, and development agencies are increasingly interested in putting a dollar value on ecosystems in order to balance conservation and development needs, a concept known as “economic valuation.” For example, St. Maarten’s government recently established the country’s first marine national park after a local organization found that the area’s coastal ecosystems contribute $58 million per year through tourism and fisheries. Belize enacted a host of new fishing regulations based on a WRI valuation, which found that coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contributes $150 million-$196 million per year to the country’s economy. And in Bonaire, park managers used economic valuation to justify the Bonaire Marine Park’s establishment of user fees—making it one of the few self-financed marine parks in the Caribbean.
These stories show that economic valuation can indeed lead to better coastal policy, conserving these ecosystems and securing their important economic contributions. However, according to new WRI research, these cases tend to be the exception in the Caribbean.
Economic Valuation and Coastal Policy in the Caribbean
In the Caribbean, there is keen interest in economic valuation of coastal ecosystems to inform policy and improve natural resource management. But while the literature on the value of coral reefs and mangroves in the Caribbean continues to grow, these ecosystems continue to decline.
WRI and the Marine Ecosystem Services Partnership (MESP) took a closer look at the impact of previous economic valuation studies in the Caribbean. Out of more than 200 studies of the economic value of the Caribbean’s marine ecosystem goods and services, we were only able to identify 13 that actually influenced marine and coastal management policies, such as those in Bonaire, St. Maarten, and Belize.
People around the world enjoy coral reefs as places of recreation and wonder. But few appreciate that reefs are also an economic pillar for many countries.
Take, for example, the Caribbean nation of Belize. A recent analysis by several of my colleagues concluded that the country's coral reefs contribute the equivalent to 10 to 15 per cent of the nation's GDP, primarily through tourism and fisheries. Likewise, the avoided damage to buildings and infrastructure that reefs provide by serving as a "speed bump" for tropical storms equates to the same GDP percentage.
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.