Hawai'i: October 2011 Archives

It took me a few tries to wrap my head around this headline about a recent NOAA study:

US Residents Say Hawaii's Coral Reef Ecosystems Worth $33.57 Billion Per Year

Did you catch that? We often talk about the "worth" of coral reefs in terms of the revenue they can generate for local communities via fishing or tourism. But this is different. This is the amount of money Americans say they're willing to pay to ensure that Hawaii's reefs are safe and healthy.

Thumbnail image for DSC07965pEARLWALL1OCT07.JPGThe key point here is that the survey pool comprised "a representative sample of all US residents" -- meaning, it included tons of people who have never seen Hawaii's coral reefs and never will. They just like the idea that they exist!

In fact, when you look at per-household figures, it turns out they like it a lot.

The study breaks down coral reef conservation into two types: "Ecosystem-wide Protection & Restoration" and "Restoration after Localized Injuries." (That last one referring to fixing the damage caused by, say, wayward boats.) Put them together and the average amount a household is willing to pay is $287.62.

Sound like a lot? It is. Forgive the rough comparison, but say your household income is $50,000 (about the national median) and you're married with a kid. Two-hundred and eighty-seven dollars is more than you would pay in federal income taxes for everything other than Social Security and Medicare -- meaning national defense, health care, unemployment insurance, education, NASA, FEMA, Homeland Security, and so on, combined. And that's just for the coral reefs in Hawaii!

Who knows if these households are truly prepared to pony up $287 in the name of reef conservation. But even if the number is inflated, it suggests something quite interesting: it may be easy for us to not think about conservation, but it's apparently very difficult for us to choose inaction... so long as we're asked to choose something.