Do you value the ocean? Many would say they love it, relating memories of a deserved vacation, carefree summer times, or the taste of their favorite fish. But exactly how much do you value it?
While it may be difficult to value the ‘intangibles’ – like your ocean memories or the fact that half the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean – a recent WWF study estimates that the ocean is valued at a minimum of $US 24 trillion. From food and tourism, to coastal protection and carbon absorption, the ocean is an economic powerhouse. If the ocean were a country, it would be ranked 7th in the world, based on annual gross marine product (the equivalent of a country’s GDP.)
However, that global ocean value is sinking, and quickly. Many of the creatures and ecosystems we value most in the oceans are being lost, sometimes within one human lifespan:
- Over 90 per cent of the largest predators (including bluefin tuna, which have dropped by 96 per cent)
- Mangrove forests (destroyed three to five times faster than land forests)
- Almost one-third of all seagrasses
- A quarter of the world’s coral reefs (at current rates of temperature rise and acidification, our coral reefs will dissolve faster than they can grow within 35 years).
As these reports show, we all share the responsibility of turning the ocean crisis around. Businesses in particular, have a unique opportunity to restore nature and increase ocean value. On the supply side, we need to protect and manage what is wild, and on the demand side, be smarter about consumption.
Supply side: protect what’s wild
Marine reserves create better tourism… and fishing
When left alone, nature is incredibly efficient at maximising ecological and economic value. Marine reserves increase life – particularly large fish – which attract tourists and increase revenues (often disproportionally greater than fishing). In the wider Caribbean and Pacific coast of Central America, for instance, 50 per cent of all dives (7.5 million dives annually) take place within marine protected areas.
Fishing communities often fear short-term income losses associated with closures, but marine reserves – with enhanced adjacent fishing from the spillover of the reserve – combined with tourism may often exceed the pre-reserve value and offset the costs in as little as five years. In marine reserves that have been in place and well-managed for over five years – such as Apo, Philippines, or Ebiil, Palau – fishermen often say that fishing is improved by the presence of the reserve.
Well-managed catch-and-release recreational fishing can also be lucrative in and around the reserve. By protecting coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, marshes and seagrass beds, marine reserves can play a significant role in protecting some of the most efficient natural carbon sinks on the planet – enhancing coastal protection from storms, and ensuring the supply of fish to nearby fisheries long into the future.
These results suggest the need for new business models related to creating and managing reserves, which could pay for themselves and turn a profit for old and new stakeholder groups.
Shark tourism example:
- Shark ecotourism currently brings in around $314 million annually, worldwide, with projections doubling to over $700 million per year by 2020. Sharks, slow to mature and few on pups, are also critical for balancing the food web. The longer they can stay in the water, the more goods and services they provide to all of us. Beyond the economics, how much do we value these perfectly-designed ocean predators that have roamed the ocean for over 300 million years?
Demand side: Consume smarter
It’s important to know the full cycle of any product. The more we’re aware of where things come from and where they go after we use them, the more empowered we are as consumers.
Putting the ‘fish’ back in efficiency
Half of the fish we eat is farmed, but much of it is wasteful. Funds like AquaSpark and business competitions like Fish 2.0, are helping to create better sustainable seafood markets. As Jacques Cousteau said, “We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about – farming replacing hunting.”
Eating sustainable seafood, whether wild or farmed, and as low on the food chain as possible, will allow you to keep that sushi date…twenty years from now.
One’s trash is another’s treasure
Land-based trash that ends up in the ocean is a catastrophic issue and getting worse. If current trends continue, there will be three tonnes of plastic for every tonne of fish in the ocean by 2050. Waste management systems need to keep pace with growing economies. For example, in the Philippines there is a recycling and collection economy for higher-value plastics – of which 90 per cent are recycled.
The Circular Economy gives us hope where there is money to be made (or saved), when municipalities or businesses re-cycle or up-cycle what is currently considered ‘waste’. For example, Interface and Desso make carpet tiles from recycled fishing nets; method and Ecover sell their green cleaning products in recyclable bottles from beach clean-ups. In addition to getting the current waste out of the ocean, product development and systemic waste management opportunities abound, so that junk doesn’t end up in our ocean in the first place.
Green energy helps the blue
Like land-based waste that ends up in the ocean, land-based fossil fuel energy consumption is leading to devastating ocean acidification. The quicker we can get off fossil fuels and scale the renewable energy solutions that already exist, the better the world will be.
The ocean is a global treasure, rich in intrinsic and economic value. The more we invest in it, the more we’ll get back.
-Kristin Rechberger is CEO of Dynamic Planet, a company that works with businesses to restore nature. This includes ‘blue finance’, environmental storytelling, and leadership engagement - so that people and nature can both thrive. Current projects include sustainable tourism through destination stewardship, ecotourism investments, and new apps for travelers to connect to places more deeply.
This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.
How can you show your support this World Ocean Day?
- Visit Ocean Unite's new website to find out more about the work they do, and how you can get involved.
- Donate to help us secure a healthy and vital future for the world’s oceans.
- Follow us on Instagram (@VirginUnite) and tell us what the ocean means to you, by posting a picture and comment using hashtag, #LoveYourOcean
You can also read more blogs from our ocean-themed series by visiting the homepage: In focus: the world's ocean.