[Coral-List] Economic Valuation and market based conservation

Eugene Shinn eshinn at marine.usf.edu
Fri Aug 19 15:38:31 EDT 2011

"Some things don't lend themselves easily to putting a dollar value 
on them." Douglas Fenner is so right! Placing a monetary value on 
corals and other animals and plants requires what can be called, 
"smoke and mirrors." Why am I suspicious? Before joining USGS, and 
before the benchmark EXXON Valdez spill, I served on several American 
Petroleum Institute committees concerned with oil spills, mitigation, 
and fines. At that time no one knew how to put a value on areas 
impacted by spills. There was one example in Puerto Rico that I 
remember where a group had estimated the number of fiddler crabs 
killed and then went to Wards catalog to find what they were worth as 
classroom specimens. They then calculated their total worth! That was 
clearly overly simplistic but it did provide a number. Then along 
came the lawyer/sociologists with vague aesthetic sounding language 
that smacked of smoke and mirrors. I never understood it and was very 
upset because there was nothing you could get your hands around. I 
remembered that incident later.
     After joining USGS, which was before establishment of the Marine 
Sanctuary, the newly created sanctuary began fining people for anchor 
damage and small boat groundings on coral bottom. The trigger for 
concern had been the devastating Wellwood ship grounding that 
flattened several acres of Molasses reef spurs. The resulting fine 
was $6 million dollars. In that case the amount of damage was 
carefully documented centimeter-by-centimeter but how the fine was 
calculated I will never know. A more difficult task is calculating 
how to access a fine for minimal anchor and small boat groundings. 
That task requires more smoke and mirrors. It bothered me because I 
had seen and documented the incredible damage caused by hurricanes 
that was thousands of times greater and I had also documented how 
quickly corals would grow back in the days before coral diseases and 
bleaching. The kicker for me was when I was in the back room with one 
of the enforcement officers discussing small boat groundings. On an 
aerial photograph he pointed to a natural rubble area behind Molasses 
reef and said, "you have to get out to places like this quickly 
because you can't see the damage after a few days." I suppose that is 
why I cringe when we start discussing economic/emotion-laden schemes 
for protecting coral reefs. Ideas that sound reasonable are likely to 
be quite different when they trickle down to the enforcement officer 
with a gun on his hip. I agree with Fenner. It will require slow 
sociological change before most humans begin taking care of coral 
reefs without a gun in their back. Hopefully by then they will have 
bounced back on their own. Gene


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
Marine Science Center (room 204)
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
Tel 727 553-1158---------------------------------- 

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