[Coral-List] Value of Hawaiian Coral Reefs

Les Kaufman lesk at bu.edu
Sat Nov 5 12:50:57 EDT 2011

Dear Francesca (and everybody),

Ecological and environmental economists have been struggling to find ways to explain the real value of nature without trivializing, bastardizing, or prostituting things that are important to us, yet very difficult to equate with more familiar currencies such as money.  Despite our ability to see far into the future, most of us rarely do so.  Consequently, we respond to stimuli that immediately impact us, like the possibility of suddenly acquiring, or losing, a lot of money.

This is especially true of ecosystem services- the essential things for life and health that nature provides to us without us lifting a pinkie, but that require intact, robust ecosystems to keep flowing.  These are the things we take for granted, like breathable air and clean water, as well as things we pay at least a little bit of attention to, such as the natural beauty that supports the tourism industry, all the way to more obviously valuable commodities like food, minerals, and fuels.   There are several classification schemes for ecosystem services, but the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is the one most widely used right now.  Check out: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/5/1305.short for a short comment on where this is heading.

One way to express the value of nature is in terms of dollars.  It is not necessarily the best way, but it is the way that the greatest number of people understand.  There is a lot of baggage associated with it- the questions you raise come up all the time, plus "willingness to pay" doesn't always mean that when you ask people what they are willing to pay to keep something around, that they will actually fork over the money when things start hitting the fan.  

If you have a better way of expressing the value of Hawaii's coral reefs- or any coral reef- it would be useful to share it.  This is a young field, and people respond to the strangest things.


Message: 1
Date: Fri, 4 Nov 2011 09:40:38 -0700 (PDT)
From: "frahome at yahoo.com" <frahome at yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] NOAA news release: U.S. residents say
	Hawaii?s coral reef ecosystems worth $33.57 billion per year
To: "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
	<1320424838.84622.YahooMailNeo at web32502.mail.mud.yahoo.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8

What does it mean? That if we find a (long term?) alternative use for these sites worth $40 billion per year we can feel fine to blow the Hawaiian reefs up? 

I am very curious to understand how is "the willingness to pay to protect the coral reef ecosystem for future generations" evaluated? 

Like for example if I was one of those interviewed and I had no money on my account how much could I have offered maximum to protect the reef?
I noted there is a special category for people considering themselves environmentalists. Why? Are their values taken more or less into account?

I apologize in advance for not having time to read and understand the full report.

Les Kaufman
Professor of Biology
Boston University Marine Program
Senior Marine Scientist
Conservation International
lesk at bu.edu 

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