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Coastal Capital: Economic Valuation of Coral Reefs in Tobago and St. Lucia

The economic benefits derived from coral reefs are vital to the economies of small island states in the Caribbean. Economic valuation of these benefits helps to guide the wise, sustainable use of these resources.

Executive Summary

Coral reefs provide many benefits, sometimes called ecosystem goods and services, which are of high value and critical importance to local and national economies in the Caribbean.

These values are frequently overlooked or underappreciated in coastal investment, development and policy decisions, resulting in short-sighted decisions that do not maximize the long-term economic potential of coastal areas.

This project focuses on development of a valuation methodology that will be broadly applicable in countries across the Caribbean, supporting wise, long-term coastal policy and management.

This report provides a comprehensive summary of the valuation methodology as well as valuation results from implementation in two pilot sites in the Eastern Caribbean (St. Lucia and Tobago). Shorter, island-specific summaries of results, along with an Excel-based Valuation Tool for implementing the methodology are available from www.wri.org/project/valuation-caribbean-reefs.

Estimating the economic benefits of coral reefs to local economies is neither easy nor straightforward, due to the range of approaches available and frequent limitations of underlying data. Many valuation methods exist, and results are rarely comparable.

A priority for this project has been the development of a simple, broadly applicable methodology to value coral reef goods and services, based predominantly on commonly available data. Use of a consistent approach should lead to more comparable estimates of value for different places and time periods. An easily replicable methodology can also be applied while varying key assumptions in order to assess the impacts of different development and management options.

This methodology does not assess Total Economic Value (TEV), but rather focuses on three key goods and services: coral reef-associated tourism, fisheries, and shoreline protection services. These goods and services were chosen because of their importance to local economies and because data are available to support estimation of these values.

The method was developed based on literature review, feedback from local partners and examination of coral reef use and data availability in two pilot locations (St. Lucia and Tobago).

The results from the economic valuation of coral reefs in St. Lucia and Tobago—sites with very different coastal management and data richness situations—are presented in this paper. Even assessing only a subset of goods and services demonstrates that the benefits provided by coral reefs are economically significant, particularly with respect to island GDP. These estimates should be viewed as lower bound (partial) estimates of the economic contribution of coral reefs to the economy of these two islands.

The economic impact of coral reef-associated tourism and recreation and fisheries is evaluated using a financial analysis method—tracking the financial flows generated by these two industries, and their wider impact on the economy. Shoreline protection services are evaluated using a modified avoided damages approach, where the value of a reduction in wave-induced erosion and property damage due to coral reefs is estimated.

The methodology, as well as the Valuation Tool, uses a tiered approach, allowing results to be calculated at different levels of detail depending upon the data available.

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