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. Continue reading

Protecting Your Skin but Damaging the Reefs


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Sunscreen helps protect us from harmful sun rays, especially during the summer months when we habitually frequent the beach and enjoy the undulating caress of rolling waves. What we don’t usually take into account, however, is the impact that our “protective” sunscreen has on marine life, specifically coral reefs. Studies have shown that ingredients in sunscreen, such as oxybenzone for example,  leach the coral of its nutrients and bleach it white. This not only kills the coral but also disrupts the development of fish and other wildlife.

Chemical compounds in sunscreen lotions cause irreparable damage to reefs, which are crucial to the livelihoods of 500 million people in the tropics, scientist and policymakers said at the IUCN World Conservation Congress on 3 September. Hawaii is leading a legislative effort to ban the use of sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or similar harmful agents at its beaches. Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize – Update on Lionfish Jewelry: Part 1

Freshly dried lionfish fins and tails. Photo: Polly Alford, ReefCI

I’ve written in previous posts about the initiative to develop a market for lionfish jewelry as one of a number of commercially sustainable approaches to fighting this invasive species that is threatening marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Southern Atlantic seaboard of the United States. In my last post, I mentioned that the idea is beginning to take off in Belize.  I was able to observe this first-hand last month, spending two and a half weeks in the country.  During my stay I had the opportunity to meet local artists who are making lionfish jewelry and to participate in several workshops to share techniques and designs.  Continue reading

Fiji Shark Dive

Photo Credit: Martin Graf,

Photo Credit: Martin Graf,

In an earlier post I wrote about how more and more countries are waking up to the benefits of preserving natural capital, in recognition of the economic value that can be derived through ecotourism. I noted, in particular, the value that can be generated through ecotourism ventures focused on iconic species such as sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles. I cited a number of studies and calculations that demonstrate that the ecotourism value of these animals far outweighs their one-time economic value if harvested for food or body parts.

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to experience one such venture first hand, via the famous Fiji Shark Dive. Over the course of two dives I was treated to the spectacle of 40+ Bull Sharks and dozens of Blacktip and White Tip Reef Sharks, up close and personal!  What an amazing experience to see these magnificent animals – some upwards of 8 feet long –swimming only inches away.  Click here for a video (check out the background music!) courtesy of Martin Graf, one of the pioneers of the Shark Diving industry, who just happened to be in Fiji this week and was along on my dives. Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize – Update – If You Can’t Beat’em, Wear’em

Lionfish spine earrings crafted by Palovi Baezar, Punta Gorda, Belize. Credit: Polly Alford, ReefCI

In earlier posts about my volunteer experience in Belize with ReefCI, I talked about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States, and noted that, at least for the foreseeable future, human intervention, particularly the establishment of a commercial fishery for the species, appears to be the only solution to keep the invasion under control.

I mentioned the idea of lionfish jewelry as a possible way of increasing the economic return to fisherfolk who may otherwise be reluctant to go after lionfish given the difficulty of catching them (the fish must be harvested by spearing or hand netting rather than through traditional methods such as lines or nets). I’ve been pleased to learn that at least one artisan in Belize has picked up on the idea, using some of the lionfish spines that I collected while I was there. She has already crafted some beautiful earrings (see photo above) and is working on other jewelry items as well as decorative mirrors. Elsewhere, jewelry crafted from lionfish tails and fins is being sold online, and through a retail outlet in Curaçao.  Continue reading