[Coral-List] Reef values and can we affect what happens in Paris?

Sheppard, Charles Charles.Sheppard at warwick.ac.uk
Mon Nov 23 07:13:28 EST 2015

Dear colleagues

I strongly support the ISRS consensus statement on coral reefs of course, though we have to wonder whether it will do much good and, if we have doubts, how we can change things so that we can make it will?  Its second sentence says:  ‘They provide goods and services worth at least US$30 billion per year (and possibly much more)’.  Well, that means coral reefs are about 1/3000 of the world’s ‘value’ or GDP.  Who in Paris next month will really care?

Let us not talk here about the difference between price and value, but suffice it to say that the World’s decision makers will include many who possibly don’t discern the difference.  Why should they care much about 1/3000 of the World’s GDP at times of economic pressures?   The question changes then to how should we try and make them care?

Urges for ‘better education’ and the like are fine, but we have been shouting that for decades with insufficient effect (we all applaud those colleagues who have been in the forefront of trying).  Most of the other excellent points in the Consensus Statement will likely mean much less to most of the decision makers we need to reach.  My own take is that value, price and money will rule as has been the case so often before, and if so, valuations are of great importance.  

I suspect this stated valuation of reefs is very incomplete, given all the figures we have surrounding the percentage of biodiversity and productivity that occur on them.  The more recent 2014 Costanza values for reefs amount to a much increased sum of six-figures per hectare, for reasons that Costanza says are: ‘… largely due to new studies of the storm protection, erosion control, and waste treatment values of these systems.’  

Using these newer values would bring the ‘value’ of reefs to about thirty times greater.  Much better, and this figure, around 1%, would register on an accountant’s radar.  Perhaps we as a group might find too many caveats to the new figures to agree on a consensus, but it would more likely make a difference regionally:  using latest figures I recently valued the Persian/Arabian Gulf’s reefs at £90 billion, which has engendered interest..  

I know that some of us hate the notion of pricing something priceless and irreplaceable, but it is not us who run the world, but economists.  Many of us know too that there is a lot of opposition by economic, political and other vested interests to many aspects of conservation, making things very difficult to arrest the continuing declines.  We should remember too that not only coral reefs are in decline; so are many other coastal systems, and pelagic ones too -  we know all about fisheries, but key groups like diatoms are declining at over 1% per year as well.  

We as scientists quite evidently are not making sufficient difference, however elegant might be our data and however fluid our prose in the journals.  It is evident that we scientists cannot do the job on our own, and must recognise this.  We cannot be sure what the Paris COPT meeting will produce or, more important, when it will produce results in our atmosphere, our oceanic pH and temperatures.  However, based on earlier meetings, actions will likely be painfully slow and too late for many more of our diminishing coral reefs. 

One of our best tactics is to feed our science to those who can use the media better than we can.  Who might that be and who might ISRS engage with to do this for us?  Two suggestions would be insurance companies and advertisers.  The former realise that climate related hits on their pockets are soaring (and they have money!) and the latter can present messages.  

Can ISRS hurriedly form a group to actively investigate how best we can use these (and others) to engage and lobby?  We need to outsource this soonest, so let us find resources to commission those who can or might be able to use our information to arrest the current decline in almost every marine habitat.

Best wishes
Charles Sheppard

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