What is the ocean worth? According to several credible, peer-reviewed estimates by leading experts in ecology and economics, the oceans are worth anywhere between $24 and $60 trillion annually. Those are huge numbers, on par with some of the world’s top national economies.
But this information is not, by itself, enough to help us make good long-term decisions about investments that are literally altering the shape of coasts and reducing the integrity of ecosystems that have persisted for millennia or longer.
Such investments are often driven by the important intentions of reducing poverty, improving well-being and increasing opportunities for growth and social development. But too often decisions about these investments have been made in the absence of good information about the ecosystems that might be displaced and the benefits they provide on a daily basis.
Indeed, near-sighted decisions reduce our long-term well-being and development potential. Half the world’s mangrove wetlands—that serve as natural “fish factories” and protect coastal communities from storm surges—have been dug out to make room for poorly managed shrimp ponds and unsustainable aquaculture, to cite just one example.
Through the Mapping Ocean Wealth project, The Nature Conservancy is working to describe—in quantitative terms—all that the ocean does for us today, so that we make smarter investments and decisions affecting what the ocean can do for us tomorrow.
At the center of this project is a shift from documenting broad global averages to specific local details, evaluating nature as an asset in real places and incorporating its benefits into all coastal planning decisions. Our scientists and a cross-sector group of partners around the world are working to develop a deeper understanding of the services oceans provide for us by showing not just how but where ecosystem benefits such as fish production, coastal protection and carbon storage are produced.
Today marks an exciting milestone for this work. We are presenting our newest set of maps, statistics and data in the first Atlas of Ocean Wealth, which we are releasing in celebration of World Oceans Day.
The Atlas represents the largest collection to date of information about the economic, social and cultural values of coastal and marine habitats from all over the world. It features more than 35 new maps that show how nature’s value to people varies widely from place to place. Indeed, through this Atlas and the companion online Atlas, Ocean Wealth will literally sit in the palm of your hand—helping to make science a better driver of smart policy and development.