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How Do We Value Our Reefs? Risks and Tradeoffs Across Scales in “Biomass-Based” Economies

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This review examines how local and regional coral reef management can be better informed by economic valuations. Results from the Western Indian Ocean show that supporting services are underrepresented, while cultural and provisioning services, where clear markets exist, are overrepresented in both the number of studies conducted and values assigned. These services are generally assessed using different methods meaning comparisons cannot be made across services. The largest number of services flows to beneficiaries at a local scale, consequently the cumulative value of ecosystem services is largest at this scale. However, the average value of a single service appears greatest, when flowing to beneficiaries at a global scale, creating biases in ecosystem service assessments. Furthermore, inconsistencies in classification and definition, particularly concerning regulating and option services exist. Findings suggest that if regional managers are to base their decisions on current valuation studies, their choices are likely to result in unexpected and undesirable tradeoffs. There is a need for (1) new and standardized methods that adequately account for supporting services; (2) studies to consider multiple ecosystem services simultaneously and across scales; and (3) a greater interdisciplinary understanding of how and why ecosystem services contribute to human well-being, under differing social contexts.

Keywords: coral reefs; cross scale; economic valuation; ecosystem services

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Business, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Publication date: July 1, 2011

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