How Much Are Ocean Resources Worth?

Barcelona, Spain - Coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses have tremendous economic value for local communities and the world as a whole, according to the first global reference guide for these valuable marine resources. The reference guide, titled “Coral Reefs, Mangroves and Seagrass Economic Values: A Global Compilation” by Conservation International (CI) in collaboration with The International Coral Reef Initiative, The Coastal Ocean Values Center, World Resources Institute and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, establishes the economic importance of ecologically rich ocean ecosystems. 

While conservationists have long emphasized the ecological significance of marine resources, managers and planners of marine and coastal development have lacked easy access to statistics on the economic value of those resources. Now the reference guide provides that fundamental information for sustainable development of coastal and marine areas.

“If we want to be successful conservationists, we have to talk in terms people can understand: money,” said Dr. Leah Bunce Karrer, CI senior director for the Marine Management Area Science program. “This tool enables managers and practitioners around the world to do just that.”

The reference guide is an easy-to-read booklet as well as an on-line version at It includes information for values at the local, regional, national and global levels, and also is organized by categories of value, including tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection.

“The obvious market value of development has led many countries to encourage destructive growth, often at the expense of coral reefs and tropical coastal ecosystems.  This guide will give planners and conservationists scientific evidence of the economic importance of the other values provided by coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grasses,” noted Dr Linwood Pendleton of The Coastal Ocean Values Center.

“In addition to the short summaries of valuation studies, a strength of this compilation is the list of references provided, which will allow researchers and other interested parties to access the details of economic valuation studies, which are critical to interpreting the results,” commented Lauretta Burke, Senior Associate for Coastal Ecosystems, World Resources Institute.

Oceans covering 71 percent of the Earth’s surface host a tremendous diversity and abundance of marine species that are essential for human survival. Coral reefs are habitat to vital fish stocks and other marine biodiversity, while mangroves serve as natural buffers against storms and saltwater incursion on freshwater sources. Seagrasses are important habitat and also part of the marine food chain while stabilizing the seabed.
Despite their ecological and economic importance, the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) being conducted by CI, Old Dominion University and other partners shows that human pressures are wiping out keystone species such as corals, which make up the entire structure upon which thousands of other marine species depend.

While terrestrial ecosystems and resources have been mapped and studied, the ocean’s marine life is less well-known or understood. Now, this reference tool - which is the marine extension of the global conservation values map created and administered by CI - provides much-needed data demonstrating the economic value of tropical marine resources.
One proven method for protecting marine resources that benefit people is the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). CI has worked with partners in priority marine regions around the world to help create 27 MPAs in the past four years. Together, these MPAs include more than 60 million hectares (an area larger than Spain) and offer hope that marine species and ecosystem services can be conserved to maintain ocean diversity and abundance for the benefit of people.

CI’s Marine Management Area Science program was established to address the critical questions facing marine managed areas worldwide. Supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, this program is committed to building in-country capacity and ensuring the science feeds into conservation at the local to global levels.


Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth’s richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit

The mission of The Ocean Foundation’s Coastal Ocean Values Center (COVC) is to create a national program of coordinated research and data collection on economic indicators of coastal ecosystem health, to educate the public and coastal managers about the economic importance of coastal activities, and to provide economic data and analysis to improve coastal and ocean management.

The World Resources Institute’s mission is to move human society to live in ways that protect Earth’s environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.

The mission of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is to understand and predict changes in Earth’s environment and conserve and manage coastal and marine resources to meet our Nation’s economic, social, and environmental needs.

International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) is a unique public-private partnership that brings together governments, international organizations, scientific entities, and non-governmental organizations committed to reversing the global degradation of coral reefs and related ecosystems, such as mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, by promoting the conservation and sustainable use of these resources for future generations.

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