How Much are Coral Reefs Worth To You?

By November 19, 2011 Ocean News
What is the Worth of Coral Reefs
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. <>.

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