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Brendan Turley

What is the Worth of Coral Reefs

How Much are Coral Reefs Worth To You?

By | Ocean News | One Comment
What is the Worth of Coral Reefs

US Citizens Feel Coral Reefs Are Worth $34 Billion, But Should We Add A Price On Priceless Habitats?

October 2011, NOAA released its technical memorandum titled: “Total Economic Value for Protecting and Restoring Hawaiian Coral Reef Ecosystems”. As the title explicitly states, the study that was conducted tries to put a monetary value on the total expanse of the Hawaiian coral reefs in terms of protection and restoration, which the paper states  that the reefs cover almost 3,000 square kilometers of the ocean floor in the Pacific.

US Citizens Have Their Say

The methodology of the study used internet surveys that were answered by citizens of the U.S. living in the 48 continental states, for some reason those living in Alaska and Hawaii were excluded. The surveys asked how much the participant would pay per year to expand and maintain fishing exclusion areas and more generally Marine Protected Areas. In addition, the surveys asked participants how much they would pay per year to repair the estimated 5 acres damaged per year by ship groundings on the Hawaiian reefs.

Corals Worth $34 Billion

The findings state that the average household would be willing to pay $224.81 per year for protection of the reefs through expanding protected areas and $62.82 per year to restore damage done by grounded ships. The grand total established through the surveys is about $34 billion per year.

Is this market valuation of an invaluable/priceless/too valuable to be valued thing such as the Hawaiian reef system really necessary? Is this the level to which society has stooped such that we must put a monetary value on everything less it be deemed worthless? Someone cannot place value on something, like ecosystems, that have intrinsic value.

Truthfully, our ignorance of the function of ecosystems like coral reefs is simply too great to begin to make a value judgement like the dollar value placed on it. I am trying to fathom the whole purpose of the study in the first place and it seems to elude me. It bothers me to read it because it sends a message that society has reached a point that everything must have a dollar value associated with it be considered important. And hence it might be for sale to the highest bidder.

Everything Is Not About Money

This report really comes as no surprise because in today’s political atmosphere money talks and everything else walks. I should be happy at the $34 billion per year figure because it is a rather large figure. It is worth noting that Hawaii’s GDP for 2010 was just under $67 billion. I hope that the study was purposefully designed to overestimate the value because I feel that erring on the side of caution, especially when it involves the environment, is a prudent thing to do.


  • United States. Department of Commerce. NOAA. Total Economic Value for Protecting and Restoring Hawaiian Coral Reef Ecosystems. NOAA, Oct. 2011. Web. <>.
  •  “Outlook for the Economy — Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.” State of Hawai’i. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <>.

Do you know where your seafood came from?

By | Ocean News | 2 Comments

The Struggle With Eating Seafood

I love seafood, that is a fact. But at times it is a constant inward struggle to justify my desire to consume marine fauna. This struggle has two important beginnings within my character. One: I love the ocean to the point that I have dedicated my life so far to understanding it. I love swimming and scuba diving and seeing all the cool animals and plants that call the ocean home. I have very often, especially as a kid, wished I was born with gills. I could even go as far as saying I envy marine life for living in the ocean and I consider myself a friend of the ocean and everything in it. So, eating seafood is tantamount to say eating your best friend. Kinda strange put into that context. Two: I have worked as a fisheries observer for four and a half years, which means I full well know how non-sustainable some fishing practices can be. One would conclude that I would not eat seafood at all with my experience and interests.

Research Your Seafood

I am very judicious in my seafood decisions. I am a hound at the grocery store. In fact, I rarely buy seafood at the grocery store. I usually walk by the seafood counter just to see what is in stock. I take note of country of origin and whether it was wild or farmed. Like everything I eat, I would rather buy something that has traveled less distance even if I pay slightly more for it. For me this accomplishes two things: the seafood is more fresh and I support local business. Everyone has had to tighten their budgets in the Great Recession but for me an investment in quality food is one of the best things money can buy. Like the old saying, “you are what you eat”. The better the quality of the food, the better the quality of my health.

CSF: Agreat Solution

Some people are aware of CSAs, which are Community Supported Agriculture. There is a newer version of this concept labeled Community Supported Fishery (CSF). Individuals or groups can buy shares of catch from fisherpeople directly. Imagine the benefits! The consumer knows the fisherperson and the boat. They also are buying fresh seafood that they know has not been sitting in a freezer for months. And the fisherperson benefits by recieving a higher price for their catch. Definitely a win-win situation. Of course this is restricted to communities near the ocean but 50% of the population of Earth live close to or on a coast. If you are not near to a CSF, read the labels at the seafood counter and do the research.

Environment Over Economics? Again!

Some strange things have come to my attention recently. One, the World Trade Organization has made a ruling on Dolphin Safe Tuna labels in the U.S. It was ruled overly restrictive and stifles free trade with tuna imported from Mexico. Mexico does not have the same restrictions on Tuna fishing as the U.S. has to protect dolphins. The importance of trade outweighing the importance of environmental stewardship is definitely a cause for concern. Two, while perusing the canned seafood isle, I noticed cans of salmon that stated: Product of Thailand. Ocean Beauty Seafoods, LLC’s website claims the salmon are wild caught Alaskan salmon frozen and shipped to Thailand. Business decisions like this boggle my mind. Is it cheaper to can in Southern Asia? Maybe, but what about the environmental cost of shipping across the Pacific Ocean, twice, not to mention the monetary cost of the fuel. Both of these instances highlight the importance of knowing where your seafood come from.

Tunas Need Love Too!

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Bluefin Tuna

Photo Credit: RTSEA Blog

The Bluefin Tuna

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) has been under the spotlight for a considerable amount of time. It is highly prized for its fatty belly meat and for the thrill of catching truly massive fish. In March 2010, a coalition of nations tried to get a ban on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna approved of by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES); the United States was one of the nations supporting the resolution. This ban would have put the Bluefin in the same ranks as tigers and elephants. Unfortunately, the ban was rejected on the basis that the International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an intergovernmental council enacted to manage tunas, ultimately has jurisdiction on the Bluefin’s management and not CITES.

A Change of Mind?

Recently, NOAA was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to consider putting the Bluefin on the endangered species list. This was partially in response to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Unfortunately for the western stock of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, they spawn pretty close, spatially and temporally, to the Deepwater Disaster. So, it comes as a shock that in May 2011, when NOAA declared that the Bluefin does not deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). WAIT! I am slightly confused. Fourteen months before the ruling by NOAA on the ESA, the United States backed a proposal that would have banned fishing and trading of Bluefins under CITES. Is this a case of abrupt shifting of priorities by the government or was the initial push for a CITES ban purely political? I am in no position to judge the motives of the government, but such a contradiction makes my head spin.

The Future of the Bluefin

Unfortunately for the Bluefin, the future looks bleak. Illegal poaching underreports the actual tonnage removed from the ocean and as a result the quotas are based on inaccurate data that assumes there are more fish in the ocean than actually are. In addition, the method known as tuna ranching remove sexually immature individuals from the wild breeding stock. After only about 50 years of intense fishing pressure since the dawn of the industrialized fishing era, the stocks have declined dramatically. The decimated stocks and continued fishing pressure coupled with unsustainable quotas set by ICCAT make the Bluefin an ideal candidate for either a CITES ban or protection by the ESA. Although protection by the ESA would have only protected the Bluefin here in the U.S. while the rest of the whole would have continued to fish. The sad reality is that no protective measures will be placed on Bluefin until the stocks crash.

Thoughts of a Frustrated Scientist!

As my thoughts reel in my head about the unrelenting assault on the Bluefin Tuna, I think about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, made famous by Animal Planet’s show: Whale Wars. Their current campaign is against Bluefin poachers in the Mediterranean Sea. My initial reaction to the show several years ago was one of disgust with their audacity and obvious pretense of moral superiority. But now, a few years later, I feel like my reaction was not really disgust but envy. I envy these people who put their ideology to the test and have the guts to take a stand for something they know is a just cause. I used to think that the Sea Shepherds could never have an effect on the fisheries they were harassing. However, I realize that the fact that they are getting publicity for the despicable actions by some fishermen is justification for their actions. Because knowledge is power and more people need to realize that the oceans are under constant assault and need protection. I love the Sea Shepherds’ cause; I hate the show.

Sustainable Fisheries Gone Wrong?

By | Ocean News | 4 Comments

What are Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs)?

Catch Shares or Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) have been implemented in most fisheries under the management of the National Marine Fisheries Service in the United States. But, what exactly are IFQs? They are methods where fishery managers set a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for a specific marine species and then allocate catch shares or quotas of the TAC to individual permit holders. The quota that permit holders receive is a percentage of the TAC set for a year. The percentage is based upon the amount of fish sold or landed under the permit for a given number of years before the IFQs were established. Under this system quotas can be sold and leased by the permit holders in a “stock market” like system where the price is set based upon the market demand.

Sustainable Fisheries

IFQs are seen as a sustainable alternative to the traditional fishery management plans such as derby style fisheries and trip limits, which are viewed as unsafe and unsustainable. Many environmental groups support IFQs because a quota would give the permit holder an effective ownership of a fishery. And as a result permit holders would have some interest in maintaining the stocks and keeping them productive from year to year. Provided the TAC is not set too high a fishery would never be overfished because the quotas would not allow it.

The Reality of IFQs

The reality of the IFQ system is much different. Such a method in which the quotas can be bought or sold can be beneficial to big corporations and puts smaller owner/operators at a disadvantage. In my experience, smaller owner/operator fishing vessels can be cleaner, better maintained and the crews seem to care more about preserving the fishery. The company boats can be dirty, in poor condition and the crews can be a ragtag bunch that does not have a conservation ethic. In addition, the consolidation of fishery allocations by large corporations can put smaller ports out of business along with the associated shore facilities; such as bait suppliers, ice houses, tackle shops, fish buyers, restaurants and fuel docks.

Going Forward

IFQs are a good step toward sustainable fishery management, but other factors such as growing global demand for protein and climate change are putting addition pressures on marine species. These issues need to be addressed in addition to the detrimental social norms that are prevailing. The problems with IFQs are not in the legal framework but in the dominant social conventions that are still in place. Large corporations that idolize quantity to make profit at the expense of quality that maintains sustainability seem to be the unfortunate trend. I want to see more mom and pops and less giant chains.