[Coral-List] Charging User Fees to Save Coral Reefs

Gino Sabatini ginosabatini at yahoo.com
Sat Aug 10 05:02:50 EDT 2013

Interesting editorial below from this month's Sea Technology (AUGUST 2013, Volume 54, No. 8); the idea isn't new but I'm seeing more & more of this 'monetizing' concept appearing in the EIA literature. (Note in passing that divers are mentioned as physical source of damage to reefs).
"Charging User Fees to Save Coral ReefsDespite their ecological and economic importance, Florida’s coral reefs are teetering
on the verge of collapse. Coral coverage in the Keys has diminished from
55 percent in 1975 to less than 5 percent today. What remains is often described as
“remnant” or “zombie” reefs because they support so little marine life. Not surprisingly,
since 1995, reef-based recreation has dropped more than 20 percent in the
 The scientific evidence suggests a host of factors have contributed to the decline,
chief among them being effluent discharges from municipal storm and wastewater
treatment facilities along the coast. Other reports document the physical destruction
caused by boat groundings, fishing equipment and recreational divers.
In a bid to protect Florida’s coral resources, the federal government created the
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1990 and enacted extensive use restrictions
in Sanctuary waters. The loss of coral cover has slowed somewhat in these
protected areas, but the deterioration of wildlife populations, species diversity and
habitat quality persists throughout the region
 The inability of government regulations to reverse the downward trend prompted
conservation groups and nongovernmental organizations to develop active coral restoration
techniques. One approach involves the use of asexual fragmentation to grow
corals in underwater nurseries and then transplant them on wild reefs. Pioneered by
Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation and funded primarily by a federal
grant administered by The Nature Conservancy, this technique has proven highly effective
at regrowing coral colonies and boosting local biodiversity.
Continuing the labor-intensive nursery and outplanting operations requires secure
funding, but the Coral Restoration Foundation’s federal grant expired in 2012. Brett
Howell, Georgia Aquarium’s Alex C. Walker Conservation Fellow, has developed a
proposal for funding coral restoration while simultaneously addressing the tragedy of
the commons dynamic that plagues Florida’s coral reefs.
 Howell’s proposal calls for NOAA and the State of Florida, as comanagers of the
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, to create exclusive restoration zones inside
the Sanctuary where nonpro.t and for-pro.t organizations would invest in active reef
restoration projects. Those organizations would be able to recoup their investment in
restoration by collecting user fees from reef visitors and recreationists.
With a clear incentive to steward the reefs, these groups could also monitor for
and prevent actions that destroy reef resources, such as careless anchoring. The thrust
of this idea is to create an ownership interest in the reefs and harness .nancial incentives
for reef restoration.
 Florida has a major constituency of recreationists and dive shop operators who
have long accessed reefs at little to no cost. Even if market-based restoration were
implemented, unrestricted access could still be available in nonrestored areas. In essence,
reef recreationists, visitors and their guides would have a choice of whether
to visit a restored reef for an additional fee or a degraded, open-access commons for
no charge.
The idea of charging user fees for outdoor recreation is a proven concept. In
fact, user fees are pervasive throughout the U.S. National Park system, including at
Dry Tortugas National Park located approximately 70 miles from Key West, Florida.
There, user fees help to fund facility improvements, natural and cultural resource
preservation, and interpretation of park resources. Fees also allow visitors to contribute
to the stewardship of the natural resources that they so dearly value.
 In recognition that current approaches are not achieving the desired level of reef
conservation, NOAA is currently considering changes to the Florida Keys National
Marine Sanctuary rules and boundaries. User fees combined with donations from
nonprofit conservation groups and charitable foundations could eventually reverse
the degradation of Florida’s coral reefs". n

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