Experts Say U.S. Coasts and Estuaries Contribute Billions to Economy, but Much is at Risk: New report from Restore America’s Estuaries and The Ocean Foundation Shows High Economic Value of Coasts and Estuaries at Jeopardy Without Restoration and Protection

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Colin Durrant, CLF Director of Communications
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Washington, DC (May 21, 2008) – A new report released today documents the economic value of the nation’s coastal areas in excess of hundreds of billions of dollars. According to the report, “The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What’s At Stake?” beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays that are protected and managed in a sustainable way are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy.

At the National Press Club, Jeff Benoit, President of Restore America Estuaries and Dr. Linwood Pendleton, of The Ocean Foundation’s Coastal Ocean Values Center, detailed their findings, including:

  • Estuaries and coasts comprise only 13 percent of the land area of the United States, but are home to 43 percent of the population.
  • 40 percent of the population works in coastal areas, and the coasts produce a staggering 49 percent of the economic output.
  • In eight coastal states, the estuary regions comprise 80 percent or more of the state’s economy.
  • The Gulf of Maine region (MA, NH, ME) is home to 7.3 million people with an economic value of over $354 billion.

The full report can be downloaded at: www.estuaries.org.

“The productivity of our coastlines is up there with the Fortune 500’s” said Benoit. “Yet historically, we have overlooked the critical role our coasts play in contributing to the national economy.”

According to the report, there is a growing need for a national investment in protecting and restoring vital coastal environments to help grow America’s employment, tourism, trade capabilities, and recreational and commercial fisheries. “How well we maintain these resources will be the bellwether for how our economic sectors respond” said Peter Shelley, Vice President of Conservation Law Foundation and Board Member of Restore America’s Estuaries. Conservation Law Foundation, located in Boston, MA, is one of eleven community-based conservation organizations that comprise Restore America’s Estuaries.

“The findings, compiled by a panel of internationally renowned experts, just scratch the surface in our understanding of the value of coasts and estuaries” said Pendleton “It’s astonishing. In this report we focus only on those sectors of the economy that depend on ecologically healthy coasts and estuaries, and still the numbers are huge. We are only now coming to grips with the enormity of the economic value and potential from sustainable uses of our coastal resources, and more importantly, the potential economic losses we suffer each year because of underinvestment in coastal protection and restoration.”

Findings documented in the report include values gained from healthy coasts, such as:

  • Boston Harbor is listed as number 25 on the list of “Major U.S. Ports by Value of Cargo, 2003” with a value of six billion dollars (2005 dollars)
  • Beach going in the United States may contribute up to $30 billion annually in economic wellbeing to Americans; and
  • Recreational fishing along the coasts could contribute between $10 billion and $26 billion per year in economic wellbeing.

The report also identifies the threats and costs associated with damaged ecosystems that could be restored:

  • 45% of America’s petroleum refining capacity is at risk due to wetland loss in the Gulf of Mexico; and
  • Dredging in U.S. waterways, often a result of deteriorating environmental conditions, costs the economy nearly $600 million annually.
  • In Boston Harbor and San Francisco Bay, aesthetics, dissolved oxygen, and pathogen levels improved within a few years of pollution control efforts in those urban areas. In both of these estuaries, recreational fishing has been slow to improve because of the long-term persistence of toxic contamination. However, the experience with signature species has been mixed with some successes, particularly seals and right whales in Boston Harbor and sea lions in San Francisco Bay.

“America’s coasts are a national treasure in more ways than one,” said Admiral James D. Watkins, (U.S. Navy, Ret.) co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. “Namely, they are a significant and growing economic resource for our nation. If we focus on smart investment in the restoration and preservation of our coastline, we can ensure that this treasure pays dividends for years to come.”

The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems. The report, is the first step in a longer-term effort by the organization to make the economic value of restoration a more integral part of coastal planning and management. Restore America’s Estuaries and The Ocean Foundation’s Coastal Ocean Values Center have embarked on new research with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Restoration Center to develop methods to quantify the economic returns from coastal restoration with a pilot project set to begin in Southern California’s Santa Monica Bay this June.

This project was made possible through funding provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Minerals Management Service, The McKnight Foundation, Shell – World Sponsor of America’s Wetland: Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana, and National Wildlife Federation.

For more details on the report members of the media can contact:

Jeff Benoit, (703) 524-0248

Dr. Linwood Pendleton, (805) 794-8206

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Restore America’s Estuaries is a national alliance of community-based conservation organizations from the East, West, and Gulf coasts with a mission of preserving the nation’s network of estuaries by protecting and restoring the lands and water essential to the richness and diversity of coastal life. Members include: American Littoral Society; Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Conservation Law Foundation; Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana; Galveston Bay Foundation; North Carolina Coastal Federation; People For Puget Sound; Save The Bay – Narragansett Bay; Save San Francisco Bay Association; Save the Sound – A program of the CT Fund for the Environment; and Tampa Bay Watch. Restore America’s Estuaries is organizing the 4th National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration, October 11 – 15, 2008, in Providence, Rhode Island. Visit www.estuaries.org for more information.

The Ocean Foundation’s Coastal Ocean Values Center is a research center dedicated to helping local, national, and international coastal managers find, analyze, and use economic information to promote coastal restoration and sustainable use. Visit www.coastalvalues.org for more information.

The Conservation Law Foundation (www.clf.org) works to solve the most significant environmental challenges facing New England. CLF’s advocates use law, economics and science to create innovative strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health and promote vital communities in our region. Founded, in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.