Surfing is Valuable: The Perfect Wave as an Ecosystem Service

The numerous services we receive from nature don’t typically come with a price tag that’s easy to see. Unfortunately, without that price tag, our economic system makes it difficult to appreciate these ecosystem services or take them into account when a competing business opportunity comes up.

Wetlands and mangrove forests provide us with (free!) flood control and nurseries for fish and crabs. Vegetation near streams provides (free!) nutrient filtration for our waterways. Forests and soils sequester carbon from the atmosphere (for free!) when we burn fossil fuels. Honeybees pollinate many of our food crops (for free!). But how can we value that flood control, those fish, tons of carbon sequestered, or crops pollinated? If we had to step in and provide these “free” services in lieu of nature, it’s obvious that we wouldn’t continue to consider these services “free.”

Tourism and recreation dollars are an incredibly valuable benefit for local communities that practice land and water preservation. For example, around the world, protected nesting beaches for sea turtles have drawn thousands of tourists who want to catch a glimpse of this amazing animal–along with millions of their dollars for local communities. Figuring out nature’s price tags is an increasingly effective way for scientists, economists, and conservationists to work with communities and convince them to forgo short-term economic gains in favor of a more lucrative long-term plan that preserves nature in the bargain.

We’re familiar with tradable permits designed to reduce air pollution, and markets around the world have started putting a price on carbon emissions. The latest in the effort to put a price tag on nature? Surfonomics. This article in the Washington Post explains how we have now started to put a price tag on a perfect wave, this time in Puerto Rico. You can find out more about Surfonomics from the Save the Waves Coalition.

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