You can put a price on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, but you can't measure its true value in dollar signs.
Economists, however, have put a price tag on the famous reef. Analysts at the financial consultancy Deloitte Access Economics have calculated that the reef is worth about $43 billion. The reef contributed about $4.9 billion in the 2015-2016 fiscal year to Australia's economy and supports 64,000 jobs. Thus, the world-famous reef is basically a national treasure.
National treasure or not, however, climate change is threatening the reef. Just this year, the reef experienced its worst bleaching in known history. Bleaching is basically death for corals. Though corals thrive in warm tropical waters, even a slight increase in global temperatures can cause bleaching. When bleaching occurs, corals lose zooxanthellae—organisms that provide corals with nutrients as well as vibrant colors. Corals turn bone-white when they expel zooxanthellae due to warmer waters, hence the term bleaching.
We now know the economic value of the Great Barrier Reef. We know that it contributes quite the sum to the Australian economy, and it supports tens of thousands of jobs. However, the report and these figures take on only some aspects of the reef. The things that the report excludes from its analysis, however, are the things that make the reef priceless.
The reef supports entire ecosystems, not just human jobs. Other than that, the reef also supports marine life that also has monetary value.
Not only is the reef priceless, it is also irreplaceable. It has a significance to many organisms, as well as Aboriginal Australian spirituality, that we can't measure in terms of money.
It may be that putting a price tag on the Great Barrier Reef is a mistake. Placing monetary value on something makes it seem like that object is, in one way or another, replaceable. The barrier reef, however, holds a special role in nature. Once we lose it, it's gone forever. Its destruction can have both immediate and far-reaching consequences.
Perhaps it's best not to treat the reef, or any other natural wonders, as objects or assets. We can assess how much money they contribute to economies, but we can't evaluate their value simply on their monetary value alone.
Thus, we can say that the reef is worth such and such, and contributes this much, and supports this many jobs. At the end of the day, all that isn't what truly matters. It's also possible that the reef's monetary value won't be what ultimately saves it. Perhaps it's best to consider the Great Barrier Reef to be priceless and irreplaceable rather than a mere commodity worth billions of dollars.
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