[Coral-List] Economic Valuation and market based conservation

Douglas Fenner douglasfenner at yahoo.com
Sun Aug 21 17:21:38 EDT 2011

      By the way, I realized after I made my post that I forgot to say that the saying that "we can't manage reefs, only people" is a common one that is often said, I certainly didn't make that bit of wisdom up, somebody else did.  I have no idea who first used it.
     I would point out that commonly an infraction of a law carries a penalty, often a fine, but the fine is not calculated by how much damage the action did.  So if you are caught speeding in your car, there is a fine.  The fine is not because you did damage to the road or your car, it is not compensation.  (It is to try to get you to obey the speed limit, to try to keep accidents from killing people, including the speeder.)  There can be fines for breaking the laws on coral reefs like taking a prohibited type or size of fish or taking it from and MPA, or running your boat aground or whatever, and that fine doesn't have to be compensation.  That said, determining compensation for damage to a reef is indeed difficult.  Surely necessary in some cases like the Wellwood, I would think.  If people think it is unfair, there are legal remedies in the court system, but only if the court agrees.  Often in management, managers don't have perfect
 information, or proof (in fact they virtually never do).  If we wait for perfect information or proof, we will never be able to do any management, we'll just stand by watching as reefs are damaged further and get worse.  That is why the standards of using the "best available scientific evidence" and the "precautionary principle" have to be applied.  They are, for instance, stated in black and white as the way US fisheries will be managed, in the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management Act (and reuthorization), the law governing US federal fisheries.  The information is often not nearly as good as we would like, but it is what we have.  We hope that things like this will spur the natural and social scientists to come up with better information, but we can't wait forever.  And indeed the sciences is improving.  Hey, I have the same feeling as Gene does if I must apply for a permit to collect a tiny amount of coral to do taxonomy in support of
 conservation.  Hurricanes damage vastly more than I will ever collect, and at least in the past the reefs were able to recover.  But reefs can also die the death of a thousand cuts, and some people wouldn't be taking tiny amounts (like those selling corals in shell shops).  So I understand the need for permits.
     It is true that if you want to see damage to reefs, you need to see it soon after the damage was done.  It is more obvious right after.  That doesn't mean that the reef heals itself in a few weeks.  Corals can't regrow that fast.  Rather, the damaged area is likely to be covered with algae, and while it may be obvious that the area is not a good area anymore, it is harder to see what caused the damage.  Same thing happens with crime scenes.  You have to get there quick, cordon it off so nobody tampers with evidence, and preserve evidence like taking pictures.  Same thing happens with tsunamis.  Right after the tsunami in American Samoa, teams from USGS and Japan came to record evidence of how high the water went different places.  That evidence is very ephemeral, you have to collect it quick or it will disappear and you can't go back and get it.  That doesn't mean the tsunami didn't do great damage, that suddenly the houses are all
 restored and so on.

     I'm glad to hear that Gene is hopeful that people can learn to not damage reefs without a gun at their back.  I think that is highly unlikely.  There are too many incentives for damaging reefs.  The people who damage reefs don't do it in order to damage reefs, they do it because there is some sort of payoff for their activity, and reef damage is just a side effect.  Big resorts may dynamite a channel through the reef for their boats so they can make money selling boat trips..  A town releases untreated sewage on the reef because a sewage treatment plant is expensive or extending the outfall into deep water costs money.  Fishers catch fish to sell or to feed their families.  Farmers clear land to plant crops and some soil washes onto the reef.  Behaviors would have to be changed to protect reefs, but people have an incentive to continue.  If they can get their benefits without damaging the reef, they may be quite willing to change, since
 the purpose is not to damage the reef, rather it is to get the benefits.  If continuing the activity is the only way they can get the benefits, or changing activities is costly, then talking to them politely will not get them to change in many cases, it will take the imposition of disincentives, most likely by government (whether by legislation, lawsuits in court, or other).  That is certainly the record of polluters on land, I know the US would have a lot of badly polluted places if it were not for environmental legislation and enforcement and agencies such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).  (Watch the movie Erin Brokovich to get a sense of how this sort of thing goes.)  The profits from making toxic chemicals and dumping toxic waste are too great for many companies to resist the temptation, if there is no disincentive.  Other countries have the same kinds of problems, and if the laws or enforcement are weak, the pollution can be
 worse.  Responses to incentives and disincentives, changing people's behaviors, persuasion, those are all things that social scientists can help with, and we need all the help we can get.  If it can be done with positive incentives, in a friendly fashion, so much the better.  But sometimes it can't.

     I think Gene is right that attitudes and behaviors can change as people become aware.  Air pollution from burning coal was once so bad in London that a constant nasty "London fog" was over the city, and thousands of people died.  That was stopped so long ago few remember.  Many US cities had terrible air pollution at one time, Pittsburgh buildings were all covered with soot at one point, then they cleaned it up, now it sparkles.  At one point, air pollution in Tokyo was so bad, there were vending machines along the sidewalk that dispensed oxygen for those with breathing problems.  No more, amazingly clear air now for the world's largest metropolitan area (something like 24 million people).  There are many examples.

      I tend to think if the factors that are causing the decline of reefs were removed, the reefs would indeed bounce back.  Removing those factors, though, isn't going to be easy, and if we don't remove them there is little or no chance they will bounce back.  Rapidly increasing populations and rapid economic development in places, plus the record so far of not solving the problem in spite of many people of good will working hard on it, don't make me think it is going to be easy.  But we aren't working on this because it is easy.  President Kennedy said "we go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard."  For us, we do it because if we don't the reefs will get worse and worse.  If they do, humans will loose a lot of ecosystem services, and humanity will be the worse, as well as reefs.  It is in humanity's best interests to save the reefs.  We know how to do it.  Will we do it?

    Cheers,  Doug

Douglas Fenner
Coral Reef Monitoring Ecologist
Dept Marine & Wildlife Resources
American Samoa

Mailing address:
PO Box 3730
Pago Pago, AS 96799

work phone 684  633 4456

Fishery reform slips through the net

Upcoming change fails to tackle the pernicious relationship between government advisers and the fishing lobby, says Rainer Froese.

Nature 475, July 6, 2011


But see the reply

From: Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2011 8:38 AM
Subject: [Coral-List] Economic Valuation and market based conservation

"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---------------------------------- 
Coral-List mailing list
Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

More information about the Coral-List mailing list