Conservation news

Reefs worth more for tourism than fishing in Australia

Reefs worth more for tourism than fishing in Australia

Reefs worth more for tourism than fishing in Australia
May 8, 2005

The planet’s largest living organism is worth more to Australia as an intact ecosystem than an extracative reserve for fishing.

Stetching more than 2,300km along the northeast coast of Australia, lies the world’s largest reef and the only living structure visible from the moon. The Great Barrier Reef, made up of about 2,900 unconnected coral reefs and roughly 900 islands, is home to over 1,500 species of fish and 400 species of coral making it one of the most important marine ecoystems on Earth.

Rainbow over the Great Barrier Reef.

Copyright Brian Mathy 2004

Each year more than 1.8 million tourists visit the reef, spending an estimated 4.3 billion Australian dollars on reef-related industries from diving to boat rental to posh island resort stays. Revenue from tourism — popular activities include snorkelling; scuba diving; fishing; glass-bottomed boat and semi-submersible vessel excursions — dwarfs the commercial and recreational fishing industries which generate 360 Australian dollars annually.* Furthermore, tourism is an important source of employment: in 1998-1999, more than 47,600 people were employed in the sector compared to around 2,000 involved in commercial fishing in the region.

Tourism has given the Australian government an incentive to preserve the reef and last summer it banned all forms of extraction in one-third of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park**, making it the largest fully protected area of ocean in the world. The protected area will also benefit the fishing industry by serving as a nursery for fish-breeding to restock the entire reef.

The reef also offers great potential for Australia’s nascent but blossoming biotech industry in the form of compounds derived from corals and other organisms that live in the region. Sessile intervertebrates — like corals — have a special affinity for providing medicinally valuable compounds through their production of toxic chemicals used for defense. Several promising drugs have been developed from coral and other invertebrate species.

There is little doubt that the Great Barrier Reef, as a viable and relatively intact ecosystem, will continue to play an important role in the thriving Australian economy. The experience of the Great Barrier Reef shows that conservation does not necessarily have to be at odds with economic growth.

* In 1999 recreational fishing produced $240 million while commercial fishing generated $119 million according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
** The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park currently encompasses an area of about 345,400 square kilometres and is the largest World Heritage area ever established (established by the United Nations in 1981.