Why are the world’s marine scientists and economists putting a price tag on Earth’s oceans?
According to a report issued by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), the world’s oceans are estimated to be worth a whopping $24 trillion – a monetary amount that can be somewhat hard to grasp.
To put this estimate in perspective, the gross world product (GWP), a global parallel to GDP and a measure of the entire world’s economic output, was estimated to be around $78 trillion in 2014 by the CIA.
That means that the world’s oceans and their accompanying assets are worth more than a quarter of all economic activity in the world. But what exactly does that mean?
What’s in a number?
So why exactly would someone quantify the world’s ocean’s assets? Put simply, because – beauty and majesty aside – oceans are hugely important, not just to the ecosystem, but to the world economy.
According to the report, the annual gross marine product (GMP) is valued at over $2.5 trillion, meaning the oceans, if they were a country, would be the seventh largest (economically speaking).
This number, and the total asset valuation, take into account many facets like trade and transportation, fisheries and agriculture, and other services enabled by the ocean like tourism and education.
Here is a data visualization breakdown of the totalled assets from Vocativ:
Perhaps more important than quantifying what we have, however, the report highlights the fact that the world’s oceans are an asset that, due to harmful environmental practices, continue to depreciate every day.
What are the oceans really worth?
The good news is that oceans make our lives better, by providing us food, trade routes, hydropower, and, well, oxygen. The bad news is some of those crucial resources are spiraling down the drain. In other words, if oceans are an asset, that asset is depreciating.
Fisheries in particular have taken a blow in recent years. According to the the WWF 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their limits, all while coastal fisheries have declined by 50 percent in the past 30 years according to the UN.
As shown in the picture above, direct output (which includes factors like fisheries and seagrass) from the world’s oceans account for $6.9 trillion of the ocean’s total assets. With that fact in mind, in addition to the massive industry underpinning fishing, (in 2006 fish sales generated about $91 billion and the sector accounts for as many as 200 million jobs), a decline in the oceans’ fisheries could spell economic disaster.
To put the impact of a troubled fishing industry in perspective, Tsukiji, just one fish market in Japan – albeit the world’s biggest – employs anywhere between 60,000 to 65,000 people. That’s about 7,000 to 10,000 more people than employed full-time by Google. And though Tsukiji isn’t yet directly affected by declining fisheries, the consequence of overfishing could be quite large.
Already fishmongers in Tokyo’s iconic market have seen the supply of some of their fish (like the bluefin tuna) dwindle to nearly nothing as a result of overfishing.
It may seem strange to look at the oceans through an economic lens – after all, scientists say they are the place from which life as we know it is derived.
But from a pragmatic standpoint, marine biologists, and humanity as a whole, may have much to gain from shedding some light on just how economically important the oceans actually are.
By couching talks about conservation in economic terms, marine biologists, environmentalists, and aquaphiles alike hope that the plight of the world’s oceans influences people’s hearts as well as their business decisions.