What price do you put on coral reefs, marine fisheries, or global wind power? The direct and intangible benefits that we gain from the world’s oceans often seem distant and incalculable. But after an extensive analysis of the monetary value of the world's oceans, commissioned by the WWF, scientists have come to the conclusion that their asset value is a whopping $24 trillion—and that’s a conservative estimate.
In tune with the asset value, they were also able to calculate the annual “gross marine product,” equivalent to a country’s annual gross domestic product. The oceans enter the game right near the top, with a value that would make it the world’s 7th largest economy, worth a little less than the United Kingdom and a little more than Brazil, at $2.5 trillion annually.
Produced in association with The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and The Boston Consulting Group, the economic value was calculated by looking at the worth of various benefits gained through fisheries, tourism, shipping lanes, and coastal protection by coral and mangroves, to include but a few. However, they were unable to factor in other less tangible benefits that the oceans bring to the world through things such as oil, wind power and the ocean’s role in climate regulation, making the end value a vast underestimate.
Despite its obvious great worth, according to the WWF, we are not doing nearly enough collectively to manage it sustainably. “The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy,” explains Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International. “As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future.”
Things are not looking good for our oceans. According to the report, two-thirds of the world’s fisheries are already “fully exploited,” and almost all of the rest are overexploited. In addition to this, the ocean’s biological diversity has declined by 39% between 1970 and 2010. During the same period, we’ve also seen the loss of half of all corals and one-third of all seagrasses.
The report goes to demonstrate that the ocean is changing more rapidly than at any other point in the last millions of years. Since more than two-thirds of the annual value of the ocean relies on healthy conditions to maintain its economic output, and whilst humans populations are burgeoning, our dependence on the ocean has never been greater, or more vulnerable.
“The ocean is at greater risk now than at any other time in recorded history. We are pulling out too many fish, dumping in too many pollutants, and warming and acidifying the ocean to a point that essential natural systems will simply stop functioning,” said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the report’s lead author and director of the Global Change Institute at Australia’s University of Queensland.
Climate change is the biggest threat facing the oceans, with the report predicting a loss of all coral reefs by 2050 if we continue with the current rate of warming. This would lead to the loss of fisheries, jobs, and coastal protection for several hundreds of millions of people. Coming in a close second in damaging the ocean’s health is over-exploitation.
Despite all the doom and gloom, it’s not too late. Included in the report is an eight-point recovery plan that would restore the ocean back to its former glory. The most critical of these are taking global action on climate change, ensuring ocean recovery features heavily in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and ramping up protection and effective management of coastal and marine areas.