[Coral-List] Value of Hawaiian Reefs - why cant we all just get along? :-)

Bastiaan Vermonden bastiaan.vermonden at gmail.com
Mon Nov 21 09:39:46 EST 2011

Dear Coral Listers,

I would like to ask all of you your opinions regarding an idea for a
economic strategy which I hope would lead to better protection of coral
reefs and the enforcement of marine parks. I also think it fits in well
with the discussion about valueing reefs.

So my idea began with the question why doesn't the recreational diving and
snorkeling tourism industry invest more in coral reefs and hold politicians
accountable when they fail to provide sufficient resources to maintain and
protect marine parks.

*I believe this is due to a basic economic market failure.*
What you would expect in a proper economic market is that the price of a
good is related to the quality of that good. So to use cars as a metaphor
you expect to pay more for a sportscar which goes from 0 to 100 km per hour
in 4 seconds than one that does it in 10 seconds.

However when we look at tourism related to coral reefs I have the feeling
although I cannot substantiate it with hard data that this is not the case
for coral reef related tourism. There are locations where the reef is so
degraded that it has no recreational value and places where the quality is
so good that it is very expensive to visit but in between I have the
feeling prices are approximately the same. I believe this is due to local
pricing competition which drives down prices to levels which are close to
the cost price of organizing diving, snorkeling, recreational angling trips
or other tourism activities.

I believe that this problem largely exists because recreational users do
not have the quantitative data to properly compare different destinations.
So for example divers now have to rely on qualitative (anecdotal) evidence
to determine which place they should visit. So for example if we have 2
different destinations and both state that divers sometimes see sharks
there, then which place is the better one to visit? Maybe at one location
there is a 1 in 100 (1%) chance and at the other there is a 1 in 20 (5%)
chance of encountering a shark, this is a big difference but without this
quantitative data the diver has to hope he is lucky and chooses the right

However if we inform divers with quantitative data which area is the best
then divers will always choose the best place they can afford. So if divers
do not know the difference between the 2 locations they have a 50% chance
of choosing the best location however if they know the quantitative
difference they will have a 100% chance of choosing the best place. This
means that the destination where the chance of encountering a shark is 1%
has to start improving or lower its prices to become competitive while the
other has a strong incentive to protect its sharks to maintain its
advantage. So with this quantitative data we can create a
national/regional/global market which competes on quality rather than a
local market that competes on price.
Setting a standard*
Of course to compare different locations it is necessary to have some
standardized measures of comparison that can be applied to all or nearly
all destinations. I spent some time thinking of this and think that one
interesting standard could be the biomass compared to the biomass of a
pristine reef. The Northern line islands are some of the last examples of
what are considered pristine islands
the biomass at the most pristine reefs being around 530 grams per
square meter. So if we round this down to 500 grams per square meter then
we can compare the biomass of destinations to this benchmark as a
percentage. This allows divers to compare locations and resets their
baseline for what constitutes a healthy reef.
Then for coral cover we can use the more conventional measure of percentage
of live coral cover.

So I made a map of biomass in the Caribbean compared to this benchmark and
it can be found here along with the standard:

http://bastiaan.reislogger.nl/foto/idea/   (I don't have my own website so
I used my travelblog website)

According to this map divers should choose Cuba as their next diving
destination or otherwise Yucatan Mexico. Then next are the
countries/islands with 27% of pristine biomass. So with such a map you hope
that destinations start to compete with one another so for example
Martinique needs to increase its biomass only 3% from 24% to 27% to become
competitive with 3rd highest rated locations. Meanwhile those locations
rated at 27% only need a small increase to be the third best in the region.
Guadeloupe meanwhile needs to improve 4% to become competitive with
Martinique. What we see is that countries only need to make small steps to
increase their competitiveness. Rather than having to make a huge step to
superb quality and then hope their reputation grows they can make small
steps to improve their competitive advantage assuming that the area is
given a new rating regularly.

Of course my standard is one suggestion but it can also be a different one.
What is essential is that it lets recreational users easily compare and
that it is truly indicative of the health of the reef. Users should not be
decision paralyzed by to much information or actually demand less healthy
reef environments. (this might be a problem with sharks)

*Intended Consequence*
So the intention of this idea would be to reward countries who manage their
marine environment well with increased or higher value tourism and make
countries accountable to the market if they do not manage their marine life
well. Hopefully its effect would be

Increased biomass = healthier environment = increased business = increased
political support

Additionally I hope that this will increase the demand for services which
assist Marine parks, governments, resorts etc with management advice,
monitoring, reef restoration and more because reef quality would be more
directly related to tourism demand.  This could increase marine
conservation effectiveness and decrease protection costs. And decreased
costs of protection would lower the barrier to the implementation of more
marine protection.

*Thank you
*If you read my whole idea I would first like to say thank you. So what do
you all think of this a good or bad idea? how technically feasible is this
idea? what questions do you all have for me and etc?


Bastiaan Vermonden

More information about the Coral-List mailing list