Monday, October 19, 2009

We will be billions of dollars poorer when coral dies

Shanta Barley in New Scientist: The world's coral reefs save us $172 billion every year, but they're on the brink of collapse because of political inertia, an ecological economist has told the global Diversitas biodiversity conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

The claim was made by Pavan Sukhdev, an economist based at United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, UK. Sukhdev is head of a European Commission study called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), an international project to raise awareness about the economic benefits of biodiversity.

Previously, it had been estimated that coral reefs "earn" nearly $30 billion a year (PDF) by attracting tourists, protecting commercial fish species and protecting coasts from storm surges. To investigate the economic value of coral reefs further, Sukhdev and his colleagues reviewed 80 studies carried out between 1995 to 2009. Their work suggests that a single hectare of coral reef can be worth from $130,000 to $1.2 million a year.

However, discussing the economic value of coral reefs is like fiddling while Rome burns, says Sukhdev. "The entire ecosystem is on the point of collapse," he says. "Unless negotiators in Copenhagen [in Denmark, at the UN climate talks in December] agree to limit atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, they will sentence the world's coral reefs to death."…

Acropora coral garden with giant clam. Raging Horn, Osprey Reef, Coral Sea, shot by Richard Ling, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

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