chapter  16
Coral reef economics
Pages 13

The tragedy of the commons largely accounts for the declining condition of the world’s coral reefs, as in most areas of the world there is little to prevent overharvesting and habitat destruction. Coral bleaching caused by global warming is also a problem. We might wonder why a large reef fi sh is worth more alive on the reef than served up on a plate in an expensive hotel: older fi sh lay disproportionately more eggs, so helping to increase reef biomass. 1 Reef fi sh also perform various ecological services, helping to maintain the ecosystem of a reef by eating algae and seaweed and preventing the corals from being over-grown. Can coral reefs be managed to better health? The device of the marine park discussed in this chapter is useful; the “classic” example is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Even “traditional” social organizations can be used to reduce over-harvesting: in Fiji a Chieftain exercised the right to manage reef fi sh stocks, withdrew commercial fi shing licenses, established no-take zones and used scientifi c knowledge of fi sh breeding habits and life cycles to set closed seasons. The results were impressive – labor

productivity quickly doubled with the same quantity of fi sh being caught in half the time. Scientifi c evidence suggests that biomass inside no-take zones doubles in three to fi ve years, and that this also benefi ts nearby areas. 2

2 Goods and ecological services of coral reef ecosystems

The four types of coral reef are listed in Box 16.1 . While coral reefs cover only 0.1-0.5 percent (255,000 km 2 ) of ocean fl oor they supply about one-third of its marine fi sh species and 10 percent of fi sh consumed; more than 100 countries have coral reefs and at least 10 million people, mainly living in small island states, depend on them for their livelihoods and/or protein supply. 3 One square km of healthy coral reef can support 300 people (Moberg and Folk, 1999). The same authors point out that “coral reefs are among the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. They supply vast numbers of people with goods and services such as seafood, recreational amenities, coastal protection and aesthetic and cultural benefi ts” (p. 215).