The Value Of Coral Reef


Economic value of coral reefs for tourism (A). This figure summarises the combined dollar values of expenditures for on-reef and reef-adjacent tourism. Reefs without assigned tourism value are grey; all other reefs present values binned into quintiles. Lower panels show Kenya and Tanzania (B), South-central Indonesia (C), and Northern Caribbean, with part of Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas (D). (Further maps can be seen in Appendix A and online at

A country that depends on its coral reef to attract visitors, as Belize does, has every reason to pay attention to the various sciences paying attention to those reefs. Mostly marine biologists, perhaps, but also economists. Geeks and wonks are heroically gathering information, processing it, publishing it and if not for The Nature Conservancy’s efforts some of us might not ever see it.

The August, 2017 issue of Marine Policy, an academic journal, carries the article “Mapping the global value and distribution of coral reef tourism” by the scientists Mark Spalding, Lauretta Burke, Spencer A. Wood, Joscelyne Ashpole, James Hutchison, and Philine zu Ermgassen and TNC’s Cool Green Science has a summary in common language. Also they complement the academic illustration above with one of their own:


Screen shot from the Atlas of Ocean Wealth showing global reef value to tourism. © The Nature Conservancy

If it’s true that people reveal their true values by how they spend their money, coral reefs are very valuable indeed. In fact, according to a new study in the Journal Marine Policy coral reef tourism generates $36 billion (U.S) in global value every year.

Unfortunately, the clear economic value of coral reefs is rarely reflected in support for local, national and global efforts to manage coral reefs for the future.

That’s a situation the study’s authors – from The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Capital Project, World Resources Institute and Cambridge University – aim to change by putting the full economic power of coral reefs to tourism squarely on the world map.

Literally. And in high resolution.

The study, “Mapping the Global Value and Distribution of Coral Reef Tourism,” differentiates the value of many in-water activities – such as diving and glass-bottomed boat trips – from what the authors call reef-adjacent values. The latter are the often-overlooked benefits that coral reefs provide: calm, clear waters, stunning views, beautiful beaches and seafood.

“Reef dependency is far, far greater than most people imagine,” says Mark Spalding, lead author of the report and Senior Scientist at The Nature Conservancy, and Honorary Research Fellow in Zoology, University of Cambridge…

Read the whole summary here.

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