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

Phil Dustan dustanp at cofc.edu
Mon Nov 21 10:31:25 EST 2011

Well folks,
     There goes the political support and economy of the Florida Keys......

Bastiaan Vermonden wrote:
> 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
> location.
> 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
> http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited/stories/line-islandswith
> 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?
> Regards,
> Bastiaan Vermonden
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Phillip Dustan  Ph.D.
Department of Biology
College of Charleston
Charleston   SC  29424
(843) 953-8086 voice
(843) 953-5453 (Fax)

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