Furthermore, mangroves and seagrass meadows are excellent at
absorbing and storing carbon, reducing harmful emissions that cause
climate change. And all of those coastal ecosystems produce fish that
are a favorite on restaurant menus, providing additional economic
opportunity for coastal communities.
Clearly, nature contributes enormous value to tourism and other industries. But one of the challenges is knowing exactly where
these benefits are produced in the first place. This knowledge can
enable smarter investments in management and conservation actions that
support both nature and the tourism businesses that support coastal
The Nature Conservancy’s Mapping Ocean Wealth (MOW) initiative
provides exactly such information. MOW’s research and innovative
modeling reveals that 70 million trips are supported by the world’s
coral reefs each year, making these reefs a powerful engine for tourism.
In total, coral reefs represent an astonishing $36 billion a year in
economic value to the world. Of that $36 billion, $19 billion
represents actual “on-reef” tourism like diving, snorkeling,
glass-bottom boating and wildlife watching on reefs themselves. The
other $16 billion comes from “reef-adjacent” tourism, which encompasses
everything from enjoying beautiful views and beaches, to local seafood,
paddleboarding and other activities that are afforded by the sheltering
effect of adjacent reefs. The impact of this new information is already
being recognized, as Mapping Ocean Wealth received the 2017 Tourism for Tomorrow Innovation Award from the World Travel and Tourism Council.
In fact, there are more than 70 countries and territories across the
world that have million dollar reefs—reefs that generate more than one
million dollars per square kilometer. These reefs support businesses and
people in the Florida Keys, Bahamas, Mexico, Indonesia, Australia and
Mauritius, to name a few.
Of course, there is no shortage of data about the immense threats
that coral reefs face from climate change, pollution and associated
ocean acidification and bleaching. These threatened ecosystems still
drive both local and global tourism economies around the world. Even in
degraded condition, reefs in Florida, for example, generate more than $1
billion for the state, and provide protection for coastal assets
measured in the trillions of dollars.
This knowledge matters—not just for the tourism industry, but for
conservation, too. The old adage goes, ‘you can’t manage what you can’t
measure.’ Armed with concrete information about the value of these
important natural assets, the tourism industry can start to make more
informed decisions about the management and conservation of the reefs
they depend on—and thus become powerful allies in the conservation
Investing even a small percentage would be a wise thing to do.
Indeed, most business owners would quickly agree that investments that
maintain or improve their production capacity are key to continued,
long-term success. That’s what environmental protection and restoration
represent for our coral reefs—maintenance of the kinds of natural
capital that pays dividends year in and year out.
And we’re starting to see great examples of businesses that are
investing directly in the health of reefs that they know support their
business enterprises. For more than 10 years, the Misool Eco Resort
in Indonesia has worked with local communities and invested in creating
and managing a no-take marine protected area encompassing 828 square
kilometers in Raja Ampat, a spectacularly biodiverse area within
Indonesia’s West Papua province. Within this protected area, fish
abundance and size has increased dramatically, with benefits for the
coral reefs that surround the nearby islands.
Half-way around the world, Fury Watersports
in Key West, Florida, donates a portion of each snorkel-trip fare to
coral restoration, helping to support the recovery of several species of
endangered and threatened corals that provide habitat for all kinds of
marine life within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Both of these businesses understand their dependence on reefs and are
making direct investments in these natural amenities. It’s a win-win
for the tourism economy and nature.
The Conservancy’s Atlas of Ocean Wealth, and accompanying interactive mapping tool,
serves as a valuable resource for managers and decision makers to drill
down to determine not just the location of coral reefs or other
important natural assets, but how much they’re worth, in terms of their
economic value as well as fish production, carbon storage and coastal
protection values. By revealing where benefits are produced and at what
level, the MOW maps and tools can help businesses fully understand and
make new investments in protecting the natural systems that underpin
The concept of valuing nature isn’t a new one, but the detailed,
targeted knowledge of the MOW initiative presents an opportunity for the
travel and tourism industry to lead both in the private sector,
institutionalizing the value of nature into business practices and
corporate sustainability investments, and in the sustainability movement
more broadly by capturing the business opportunities that exist when we
realize that we need nature.