Coral worth millions experts claim

Coral worth millions? Experts Say $130,000 To $1.2 Million Per Hectare, Per Year News Service

October 16, 2009 18:18 EST

PARIS, France -- Experts concluding the global DIVERSITAS biodiversity conference today in Cape Town described preliminary research revealing jaw-dropping dollar values of the “ecosystem services” of biomes like forests and coral reefs – including food, pollution treatment and climate regulation.

Undertaken to help societies make better-informed choices, the economic research shows a single hectare of coral reef, for example, provides annual services to humans valued at US $130,000 on average, rising to as much as $1.2 million.

The work provides insights into the worth of ecosystems in human economic terms, says economist Pavan Sukhdev of UNEP, head of a Cambridge, England-based project called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). Based on analysis of more than 80 coral reef valuation studies, the worth of services per hectare of coral reef breaks down as follows:

  • Food, raw materials, ornamental resources: average $1,100 (up to $6,000)

  • Climate regulation, moderation of extreme events, waste treatment / water purification, biological control: average $26,000 (up to $35,000)

  • Cultural services (eg. recreation / tourism): average $88,700 (up to $1.1 million)

  • Maintenance of genetic diversity: average $13,500 (up to $57,000)

Taken together, coral reef services worldwide have an average annual value estimated at $172 billion, says Mr. Sukhdev. He notes the growing scientific agreement that coral reefs are unlikely to survive if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels exceed 350 parts per million. Negotiators of a new climate change deal in Copenhagen in December, however, “would be proud” to achieve an agreement that limits atmospheric carbon to 450 parts per million, he says, calling that “a death sentence on the world’s coral reefs.”

Halving the destruction of tropical forests, meanwhile, would allow them to continue absorbing roughly 4.8 gigatonnes of carbon per year, slow the rise of atmospheric carbon levels and forestall anticipated climate change damage. Halving deforestation has a net present value estimated at $3.7 trillion, according to research.

The economic choice of turning such forests into timber or clearing them to make way for agriculture is “not very clever,” says Mr. Sukhdev. “Stopping deforestation offers an excellent cost-benefit ratio.” “Investment in protected areas holds exceptional high returns,” he says. Previous studies have shown that investing $45 billion “could secure nature-based services worth some $4.5 to 5.2 trillion annually.”

Among the specific examples cited: planting mangroves along a coastline in Vietnam cost $1.1 million but saved $ 7.3 million annually in dyke maintenance. Examples of a rate of return on investments in ecosystem restoration:

  • Coral reefs: 7%, (with a cost-benefit ratio of 2.8)
  • Rivers: 27%, (cost-benefit ratio 15.5)
  • Tropical forests: 50% (cost-benefit ratio 37.3)
  • Mangroves: 40%, (cost-benefit ratio 26.4)
  • Grasslands: 79%, (cost-benefit ratio 75.1)
  • Grasslands: 79%, (cost-benefit ratio 75.1)

For information on Coral reef destruction click here

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