The Trouble with our Ocean

Herman Cesar herman.cesar at
Sat Nov 18 07:56:16 EST 2000

Reply to Peter and Ove on the economics of live versus dead reefs

In my view, the Pacific could lose a lot in terms of a decline in coastal 
tourism from mass coral mortality. This is for three reasons. First, because 
the Pacific could not easily replace its diver niche market for another market 
segment due to its remoteness from the main rich population centres in the 
world. Secondly, because fish diversity could decline in  the long run due to 
dead reefs. Thirdly, if dead reefs lead, through bio-erosion, to coastal 
erosion, sandy beaches might be washed away in the long run. There is more 
scientific evidence for the  first issue. For the other two issues, it is too 
soon to tell.

There are a coule of issues here. First, I think Peter is right that some dead 
reefs attract as many tourists as live reefs. We saw this in a recent study in 
the Maldives where we surveyed tourists post-bleaching and we showed them 
pictures of dead and live reefs and many thought that the photos with dead 
corals and lots of fish were live reefs. Also, tourism figures was not 
affected in any major way after 90% of the corals had died in the 1998 
bleaching event (see Westmacott et al (2000)). Yet, in El Nido, the 
Philippines, we found a clear decline in dive tourism, after bleaching, a 
hurricane, destructive fishing and general overfishing had made the area less 
fascinating for divers. Yet, this loss in dive tourism was partly offset with 
an increase in Korean/Japanese honeymoon tourism to the area, showing that the 
tourism industry is rather flexible in some areas (see Cesar, 2000). Moreover, 
in areas in Eastern Africa, however, where tourism is already declining and 
tourist substitution possibilities are low, bleaching would have a more 
pronounced impact on the tourism industry (Westmacott et al., 2000). In the 
Pacific, where substitution possibilities are also more limited than in the 
Maldives, I believe that tourism could  therefore lose a lot from mass coral 
mortality. This was the basis for our prediction in the latest Greenpeace 
report with socio-economic estimates in Hoegh-Goldberg et al. (2000) that 
tourism was likely to decrease significantly if bleaching were to become an 
annual phenomenon.

With respect to long run fisheries and coastal erosion predictions, I am very 
interested to learn from others what the thoughts are. Data from both the 
Philippines and Kenya after bleaching suggest that underwater fish counts and 
fishery has not declined significantly due to the 1998 bleaching event yet. 
(for a summary, see Hoegh-Goldberg et al. 2000).


Westmacott, S., H. Cesar, L. Pet-Soede & O. Lindén (2000), "Coral Bleaching in 
the Indian Ocean: Socio-Economic Assessment of Effects", in H. Cesar (ed.) 
"Collected Essays on the Economics of Coral Reefs", CORDIO, Kalmar University, 
Kalmar, Sweden.

Hoegh-Goldberg, O., H. Hoegh-Goldberg, D.K. Stout, H. Cesar and A. Timmermann 
(2000), "Pacific in Peril - Biological, Economic and Social Impacts of Climate 
Change on Pacific Coral Reefs", Greenpeace Australia/Pacific, Sidney. 

Cesar, H. (2000), "Economic Valuation of the Impacts of Coral Bleaching on 
Tourism in El Nido, the Philippines", report prepared for USAID, Cesar 
Environmental Economics Consulting, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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