Literature review of the total economic value of US coral reefs (2013)

Contact person:  Pieter van Beukering


The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Programme (CRCP) commissioned this report to produce an aggregate Total Economic Value for US coral reefs from the seven states and territories with coral reefs (American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands). The objectives of this report are to (1) provide an overview of the value of US coral reefs, (2) assess the composition of this value in terms of ecosystem services (tourism, fisheries, coastal protection, amenity value, etc.), (3) identify gaps in the value information that is currently available, and (4) estimate a value function for US coral reefs using statistical meta-analysis.

The estimated total economic value of coral reef services for the US as a whole is just over US$ 3.4 billion per year. This value is considered to be a partial estimate due to (1) the limited geographical coverage of some state/territory level TEV estimates, (2) the limited set of services that are valued for some states and territories. The scant information on non-use values is likely to constitute the largest missing component of TEV.

TEV Table
Table 1. Total coral reef values for the United States (million US dollar/year; 2007 prices)

Given the gaps that have been identified in the existing knowledge of values for some coral reef services and states/territories, there is a strong policy interest in the potential and accuracy of transferring value information from study sites where values are available to other sites that are of current policy interest. The use of value transfer to provide information for decision making has a number of advantages over conducting primary research to estimate ecosystem values: (1) from a practical point of view it is generally less expensive and time consuming than conducting primary research; (2) value transfer can be applied on a scale that would be unfeasible for primary research in terms of valuing large numbers of sites across multiple states and territories; and (3) value transfer has the attraction of providing methodological consistency in the estimation of values across policy sites.

This report has presented values for coral reef services in terms of total or average values for each state/territory in the US. This format of presentation, however, ignores the very high variability in values within states/territories. It is certainly not the case that the value of coral reef services are constant across all reefs within a state/territory and are expected to vary spatially due to a large number of factors.

The values summarised in this report are for the flow of services from coral reefs in their state at the time each valuation was conducted. Unfortunately, coral reefs are under pressure from a diverse array of threats and are expected to become increasingly degraded in the coming 22  decades (Burke et al, 2011). For that reason there is a need to model potential future scenarios for coral reef health, functioning and the associated provision of services. This would require collaborative work between coral reef ecologists and economists – which is not often seen.

Finally, a lot can be learned about the role of economic valuation in influencing decision making and management of coral reefs. Although, this was not systematically evaluated in this review, several small policy impacts of the economic valuation studies can be recorded. Since justification of the public funds spent on economic valuation studies is becoming increasingly important, it is worth assessing the impact that coral reef valuation studies have had on decision making. This way we can learn more on how to communicate the valuable lessons of the studies conducted in the past and in the future.

Link to report: The total economic value of U.S. coral reefs. A review of the literature

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