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How much are our coasts worth? No really… how much?

June 28 2012 | Coastal development, Strategy, Beaches, Economics, Culture Shifting, Surfing,

There is a story floating around the internet, a couple tore down a $4.2 million dollar home (mansion)... not to rebuild on the lot but instead for the view of the water. I happened to be traveling as the story broke so I heard a few different regional perspectives on it. I can summarize those as "only in California can something this nutty make sense." Well... maybe it's because I've now lived in California for a couple decades but... it does make sense to me. It makes sense because it starts to illustrate just how valuable our coastlines really are. It attaches a physical price tag (which is high enough that it surprises many) to how valuable even just a view of the coast is.

I know what you're thinking, those numbers are nutty... you don't have access to that kind of money and wouldn't spend it that way if you did.

Or... do you already make decisions that are similar?

How much do you pay to live near, even remotely close, to the ocean?

Think about your personal life and your lifestyle choices. How much of a premium do you think you pay to live where you do? How much more do you pay for rent or a mortgage to live where you do than if you lived in Ohio... 20% more? 80% more? 300% more? It's a notable percent, I know because I've lived in both places.

You may not be spending $4.2 million for a view but you, all of us, are paying a premium to live near the water.

Let's bridge this topic to the news which revolves around the economy and jobs. Let's dig a little deeper and look at the economic value associated with our coasts.

For me the three statistics to the left frame this issue well.

For a deeper dive into this subject (and access to most of the statistics I cite in this post) check out The Foundations of a Blue Economy report which was released yesterday.

On one level you don't need to read the report because if you're reading this blog you ARE the subject of the report. You might not label what we're talking about here "The Blue Economy" because it talks about many of the people and companies you interact with on a daily basis.

Our coasts are the home to more than half of the nation's population...  we may just be talking about "The Economy."

You may be a coastal local but we know that everyone, regardless of where they live, loves beaches. Knowing the actual number of people who visit beaches each year (450 million) is interesting but we stand in line behind them so... we feel that number.

We also know, firsthand, the value of recreation, such as surfing, to coastal communities. Mavericks put Half Moon Bay on the map. It's estimated that Mavericks draws $24 million to the local economy every year. Again, we see people flocking to beach towns in droves, so being told they are meaningful contributors to the economy as a whole makes logical sense.

This phenomenon isn't limited to one region or another, Surfrider did a study of coastal use in Oregon last year (pdf here) and found out that 80% of the state residents visit the coast once a year and they spend an average of $88 per trip. That bubbles up to $2.4 billion for the state and local economies.

We know what the coasts are worth because of our daily choices regarding where we live and work. They are worth enough to keep us here even though it's more expensive than inland alternatives. We stay because it's worth it, the value we gain exceeds the cost we pay.

Let me share three perspectices on the value of our coasts.

Recreation makes good economic sense.

I shared the Half Moon Bay example above but it's one of many. Washington state coastal recreation drives $6 billion in annual spending and accounts for 14,325 jobs.

Take a trip outside the United States... in Bali and Biarritz and the airports are, literally, wallpapered with billboards advertising surf companies and local surf destinations.

Ocean recreation is incredibly popular, it attracts millions and millions of people across the nation to our coasts and dwarfs other kinds of ocean use (in terms of relative numbers of people and economic value).

Conservation makes good economic sense

Think of the places you love going. Think of the pristine areas that capture your imagination. Think of every National Park you've been to. Would your trip to Yosemite have the same value to you if there was a series of big box stores in the center of the park? Of course not. The value of such places is directly tied to how pristine they have been kept.

The value of conservation was the central theme in our Save Trestles fight. The generations before us preserved an area which is today a California State Park. Let's not act with the short-sighted gain mentality and allow a private toll road to go through the middle of that pristine environment.

The argument's been made that National Parks is America's best idea. That's a pretty heft argument for the value of conservation. That same argument is why Surfrider is involved to preserve amazing places like the Gaviota Coast above Santa Barbara.

Restoration makes good economic sense

I can make this argument with one picture. Check out Huntington Beach in the 1930s here. Look at this photo of Huntington Beach from the water. Can you name a US beach with a uninviting beachfront than what you see in those pictures? I can't.

Now look at their website today, the URL says it all They have turned it around, restored, much of the lost luster. Today it's Surf City, a tourist destination. As we all know, it's less expensive to conserve something in the first place than to seek tax dollars to restore it after it's been damaged.

So back to my title, how much are our coasts worth?

The couple who tore down the $4.2 million dollar home put a price tag on part of the value they recieve from living near the water. The view by itself is worth $4.2 million dollars to them.

What's it worth to you to live near the beaches?

How much would you save if you lived away from the coasts?

Is there a price you can put on value you get from riding waves or walking an unspoiled stretch of beach?



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