In recent decades, coral reef ecosystems around the world have declined dramatically. One-fifth have died, according to a 2004 World Wildlife Fund assessment, and human activity directly threatens another 24 percent.
As atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increase, scientists say that higher temperatures and ocean acidification could kill 70 percent of the world’s coral reefs by 2050. By century’s end, they could be gone entirely.
If this loss could be assigned a dollar amount, how much would it be? A group of economists presented an assessment of coral reefs’ value at the recent DIVERSITAS biodiversity conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
As it turns out, reefs are quite valuable. Inferring from more than 80 studies, the economists found that, on average, 2.5 acres of coral reef provide $130,000 worth of goods and services, and sometimes as much as $1.2 million.
Here’s the monetary breakdown:
• 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 (e.g., recreation/tourism): average, $88,700 (up to $1.1 million).
• Maintenance of genetic diversity: average, $13,500 (up to $57,000).
Editor’s note: This article is one of a series of brief updates on environmental studies of interest.