Governments, businesses, development agencies, and NGOs are increasingly turning to economic valuation as a way to protect coral reefs and mangroves. This process makes the economic case for protection and sustainable use of natural resources by showing the monetary, employment, and infrastructure benefits ecosystems provide—metrics that are easily understood by decision-makers.
But not all economic valuations are created equal. WRI's new guidebook shows how NGOs and other stakeholders can conduct economic valuations in ways that lead to real change on the ground.
This guidebook details the steps in conducting a coastal ecosystem valuation to inform decision making in the Caribbean. It guides valuation practitioners—both economists and non-economists—through the three phases of a valuation effort (scoping, analysis and outreach), with an emphasis on...
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.
Degradation of ecosystems threatens human lives and prosperity, and yet little was known about the state of global ecosystems before WRI launched the idea of a first-ever scientific audit of the health of the world’s ecosystems. WRI helped catalyze a four-year, $25 million effort called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that involved more than 1,300 scientists and other experts from 95 countries. Managed under the auspices of the United Nations and completed in 2005, its findings provide powerful data about ecosystems that will inform and direct policies, research, and investments by governments, NGOs, and business. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan calls the Millennium Assessment “an outstanding example of the sort of international scientific and political cooperation that is needed to further the cause of sustainable development.”
Influenced by WRI’s Coastal Capital: Belize — an economic valuation of the nation’s coral reefs - the government of Belize took momentous steps over the past 18 months to protect this unique ecosystem. For example, after the container ship Westerhaven ran aground on a reef in January 2009, the government decided to sue for damages—something that had not occurred with past groundings. The suit was premised on the forgone economic contribution of the damaged reef’s ecosystem services, a first-of-its-kind approach in Belize history. In a landmark decision, the Belizean Supreme Court ruled in April 2010 that the ship’s owners must pay the government ~US$6 million in damages.
In addition to the ruling, the government tightened a number of fishing regulations, including:
Restricting the size limit of Nassau groupers and banning the harvest of parrotfish;
Mandating that all fish fillets brought to landing sites retain a skin patch, facilitating species identification for law enforcement;
Banning spearfishing within marine protected areas.
These outcomes, especially the ecosystem service-based fine, are landmarks for Belize and the Caribbean region, and perhaps for other reef-rich areas too. They should help relieve threats to the Mesoamerican Reef, which underpins a significant portion of Belize’s GDP. For example coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contribute to 12 to 15 percent of Belize’s GDP. Reefs and mangroves also protect coastal properties from erosion and wave-induced damage, providing an estimated US$231 to US$347 million in avoided damages per year – or 20% of Belize’s annual GDP.
WRI played an important role in making these outcomes happen. In November 2008, WRI released Coastal Capital: Belize. NGO partners put our findings in front of national legislators. Belize’s Prime Minister attended the launch gala and later cited videos featuring our economic valuation results as key to his decision to approve the new fishing restrictions. Furthermore, days after the Westerhaven incident, the Belize Fisheries and Environment Departments and NGO partners contacted and worked with WRI to calculate compensatory ecosystem-related damages of the grounding which were used in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling even included verbatim language from Coastal Capital: Belize.
Coral reefs are the “rainforests of the sea,” supporting a rich diversity of marine life. Globally, they face threats from overfishing, pollution, and human development, as well as from climate change.
The government of St. Maarten recently advanced conservation of these ecosystems when it established the country’s first national park, protecting 1,500 hectares of coral reefs and sea grasses. An analysis quantifying the economic value of the proposed park’s tourism, using WRI’s coral reef valuation method, played a key role in its establishment.
Protecting Nature for People
Reef-related tourism, including diving and snorkeling, is central to St. Maarten’s economy. Reefs and coralline beaches attract 2 million visitors a year, and tourism directly or indirectly employs 75 percent of the country’s population. Reefs and sea grass also nurture fisheries worth US$2 million per year, providing an important source of food and livelihoods for islanders.
Despite their economic value, St. Maarten’s reefs have been degrading for decades due to coastal development and overfishing. In 2010, the St. Maarten Nature Foundation began campaigning for a protected park, using a WRI methodology to show that marine ecosystems contribute US$58 million a year to the country’s economy through tourism and fisheries.
After a negotiation process, the government established Man of War Shoal Marine Park, protecting the island’s most ecologically, economically, and culturally important marine habitats from overexploitation. St Maarten’s conservation milestone also sets a precedent for the wider Caribbean region, where economies depend heavily on coastal ecosystems, yet human activity threatens 75 percent of coral reefs.
Making a Difference: WRI’s Role
WRI’s Coastal Capital project helped make the designation of St. Maarten’s first national park possible. Beginning in 2005, we developed a simple and transparent method for resource managers and conservationists to calculate the economic value of coastal habitats, including reefs.
Resource managers at the St. Maarten Nature Foundation downloaded the Excel-based tools from WRI’s website and used them to collect and analyze data on the economic value of tourism and fisheries within the proposed marine park. After the foundation made its findings public, the economic valuation provided the basis for political support.
To date, WRI and our local partners have conducted economic valuations of coral reefs and mangroves in five Caribbean countries: Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. As in St. Maarten, we are using the results to build support for policies that help ensure both healthy coastal ecosystems and sustainable economies.
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.
This paper assesses the policy influence of previous coastal ecosystem economic valuations in the Caribbean and identifies the key “enabling conditions” for valuations to influence policy, management, or investment decisions. These findings will inform WRI's and our partners’ efforts to...
This report is a map-based analysis of threats to coral reefs around the world, with particular focus on the countries of the Coral Triangle—Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. It examines present pressures on coral reefs, including...