//
you're reading...

Biology

The Great Barrier Reef is worth $15 billion – $20 billion AUS a year: A quick lesson in ecosystem economics

Paper: N. Stoeckl et al. (2014). A new approach to the problem of overlapping values: A case study in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Ecosystem Services 10: 61-78.

When discussing the value of an ecosystem, tensions run high. Some people evaluate ecosystems with heavy emphasis on non-use values, like aesthetics and spiritual appreciation. Other people value ecosystems based on things like natural resource availability and the potential for direct monetary revenue. It is difficult to assess the relative importance (or value) of these differing goals because the economic benefits of one are easily quantified while the other is more difficult to assess.

In this paper, Stoeckl et al. make an valiant attempt at a new method to determine the monetary values of ecosystems and use the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site as a case study. It is a complex problem that offers many challenges, but it is important and there is much more work to be done.

 

How do you determine the value of an ecosystem?

To determine the monetary value of an ecosystem, the services it provides to humans must be analyzed.

Ecosystem services are comprised of the various benefits that support sustainable human well-being as provided by that ecosystem; therefore, the value of those services is relative to how much an ecosystem is perceived to contribute to sustainable human well-being.

 

How do you determine the contribution of an ecosystem?

To assess the contribution of an ecosystem, you evaluate the benefits to individuals that are both easily perceived (eg. making $100/day on SCUBA tours) and those that are not well perceived (eg. cultural services). Additionally, you take into account the benefits to whole communities, and benefits to sustainability (eg. assurance the ecosystem will be fully available in the future). Then, by summing all of these benefits together, you can determine the total economic value (TEV) of the ecosystem.

This approach of adding together different pieces to create a whole evaluation makes many assumptions. One of these major assumptions is that total values can be estimated by adding the value of services without the risk of double counting. What if one benefit contributes to both an individual AND the whole community? How do you weight that value to properly represent it in the TEV?

Ecosystems, by definition, are complex systems composed of non-linear, interdependent components. Because of this complexity, there is often a problem in economic evaluations double counting and that is what Stoeckl et al. focuses on:

Those interested in estimating the value of an entire ecosystem, may need to approach the problem from a ‘whole ecosystem’ perspective… unless it is possible to first establish that individual ecosystem services are separable (in consumption or use) and thus additive.

 

Enter, the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site

Stoeckl uses the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site (GBRWHS) off the eastern coast of Australia as a case study to test a new approach to valuing the whole ecosystem. Data was collected from over 1500 residents who provided insight to people’s perceptions of the importance of 18 different community defined benefits to their overall quality of life.

Some of the items had ‘inseparable’ or ‘overlapping’ components. These components were grouped together, generating composite benefits that could be validly compared, thus providing information about the likely value of these benefits relative to one another and allowing the authors to generate an estimate of the collective value of all community-defined benefits associated with the GBRWHS that are examined for the paper. The authors’ approach to determine the total economic value of the GBRWHS required the following:

  1. Identify ecosystem benefits
  2. Quantify the relative importance of the benefits using the conceptual framework of life satisfaction
  3. Assess the seperability of those benefits
  4. Calculate the total value of benefits relative to benchmark market values

Stoeckl et al. assign value using the life satisfaction (LS) method rather than traditional valuation (TV) method because TV methods do not look for direct and measurable links between ecosystem services and utility. Stoeckl et al. explain TV by describing a $100 lunch at a restaurant with a view, vs. a $300 lunch at a restaurant sans view. If you are indifferent between the options, the view can be valued at $200.

Unsatisfied with the TV method, Stoeckl et al. use the LS method to ask people to indicate how important various goods and services are to their overall quality of life and compared ratings. Importantly, Stoeckl et al. elaborate on the widespread consensus that self-reported measures of LS are valid, replicable, and reliable.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 1.55.07 PM

Figure 1. Results of data collection concerning the importance of different ecosystem services.




 The group uses statistical analysis to determine the separability of groups of benefits and the collective value of the benefits. Then, the mean importance of each separable group of community defined benefit as a contributor to overall quality of life is determined and an inferred value is assigned.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 2.56.58 PM

Figure 2. The ways in which community derived benefits contribute to the overall quality of life of residents.

The monetary range for the study involved choosing different market bench marks with which to value the importance of a community defined benefit. Figure 3 shows the inferred monetary value if reef tourism is chosen as the market benchmark, while Figure 4 shows the inferred monetary value if mining and agriculture are chosen as the market bench mark.

Figure 3. Inferred values with reef tourism as the market benchmark.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 2.52.14 PM

Figure 4. Inferred values with mining and agriculture as the market benchmarks.

Considering these two benchmark values, this suggests a potential total economic value for the Great Barrier Reef of $12 – $20 billion AUS per year. This is lower than using other methods for separability, and may be a substantially conservative number.

To learn more about the many resources the study references and the complexities of the methodology, it is best for you to examine the article yourself. The authors consider many previously published studies and address why they choose their particular sets of valuation.

 

Final Word

Figuring out how much an ecosystem is worth is not easy. The authors admit this study is not comprehensive coverage of all ecosystem services and they only considered views of the residents in the region. For instance, the millions of tourist opinions were not considered, nor were perceived values of poorly understood topics like storm protection and nutrient cycling. However, they did account for financial estimates of benefits like uncrowded beaches for the first time.

The take home message is that there is a new way to assess the value of an ecosystem that considers duplication of assets and different market benchmarks to assign inferred values. While the methodology still needs some fine-tuning, it critically addresses resident recognition that “having a healthy ecosystem is important by and of itself, but it is also a precondition for being able to use the ecosystem for recreation and/or livelihoods.”

Discussion

No comments yet.

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 2 days ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 1 week ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 2 weeks ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 1 month ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 1 month ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Feeling a bit flattened by the week? So are these summer flounder larvae. Fun fact: flounder larvae start out with their eyes set like normal fish, but as they grow one of their eyes migrates to meet the other and
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Have you seen a remote working setup like this? This is a photo from one of our Oceanbites team members Anne Hartwell. “A view from inside the control can of an underwater robot we used to explore the deep parts
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Today is the day of  #shutdownacademia  and  #shutdownstem  and many of us at the Oceanbites team are taking the day to plan solid actions for how we can make our organization and the institutions we work at a better place
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Black lives matter. The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have once again brought to light the racism in our country. All of us at Oceanbites stand with our Black colleagues, friends, readers, and family. The
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com