GUAM: 05.24.2016 Divers' willingness to pay for improved coral reef conditions in Guam: An untapped source of funding for management and conservation?
Coral reefs are increasingly threatened despite being essential to coastal and island economies, particularly in the Pacific. The diving industry relies on healthy reefs and can be positively and/or negatively impacted by ecological change. Quantifying divers' ecological preferences that influence economic outcomes can help inform managers and justify conservation. Utilizing non-market valuation, we assess SCUBA divers' preferences for ecological attributes of coral reef ecosystems in Guam, estimate WTP for coastal and watershed management, and investigate drivers influencing preferences. A discrete choice experiment grounded in ecosystem modeling reveals divers prefer reefs with greater ecological health (higher fish biomass, diversity, and charismatic species). Individuals with stronger environmental values expressed stronger ecological preferences. Fish biomass improvement from low (< 25 g/m2) to high (> 60 g/m2) was worth >$2 million/year. The presence of sharks and turtles together was the preeminent attribute, worth $15–20 million/year. Divers are willing to voluntarily contribute ($900thousand) towards watershed sediment-reduction projects that could benefit divers by improving reef conditions. Few policies are in place worldwide collecting fees from divers for coral reef management, and none in Guam. Our results suggest that understanding divers' preferences and the drivers behind them may assist managers in designing policies that capture divers WTP and create partners in conservation. by Kirsten L.L. Oleson, PhD
Assistant Professor - Ecological Economics
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management