State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Economic Invisibility of Nature

By Sebastian Mafla

Coral reefs are one of the stranger occurrences of the ocean. Formed by thousands of small animals, coral colonies are the backbone of many aquatic communities. Close to a quarter of the world’s marine species, mainly crustaceans and fish, rely on the shelter and food sources provided by the coral reefs. Consequently, fishing villages that live near these thriving ecosystems depend heavily on the sea life they can fish out. For these underdeveloped communities, coral reefs are a way of life; without them, it is no exaggeration to say they face death.

In a talk at the TEDGlobal conference in July 2011, Pavan Sukhdev, CEO and founder of environmental consultation firm GIST Advisory, urges us to protect the coral reefs now, as they are in serious danger of extinction. In his talk, Sukhdev invokes the “economic invisibility of nature” to describe the value of biodiversity and ecosystems services. He argues that many corporations fail to account for the economic value of these parameters. As examples, he highlights the rain that originates in the Amazon and fuels agriculture in South America and how mangroves provide storm protection.

Sukhdev argues that ultimately someone will pay for the loss of these important ecosystem services, and that “someone” is often the underdeveloped communities of the world. Sukhdev stresses this point by describing the ecology of coral reefs, as they need a specific water temperature and concentration of carbon dioxide to survive. By our actions, humans have disrupted this careful balance, causing a rapid death in coral reefs, and subsequently affecting the species that need them for life. By continuing to endanger the reefs, and not provide adequate measures of protection, he articulates that we have made a questionable ethical choice, since close to half a billion people of the world depend on them for survival. What do you think?

To learn more about the coral reefs, and to experience their splendor first hand, visit the CERC website to find out more about our course: Coral Reef Ecology in Bermuda.

Sebastian Mafla is an intern at the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation.

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