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Australia puts price on dying oceans


09:22, September 13, 2011

SYDNEY, Sept. 12 (Xinhhua) -- As Australia wrestles with the value of a disputed carbon tax, a unique study, released on Monday from a Sydney think tank, has been the first to assess the actual financial worth of the environmental treasure beneath Australia's oceans.

According to the Sydney Center for Policy Development's research director, Laura Eadie, "It's not an easy thing to put a price on the value of life let alone an ecological treasure chest that sustains and if protected could sustain us for future lifetimes, but that's what this study aims to do."

An island nation Australia is surrounded by pristine oceans of enormous cultural, psychological and emotional value and now thanks to the CPD study the oceans and the life that lives in it has a dollar value.

A comprehensive economic assessment reveals that the oceans provide 25 billion Australian dollars (25.87 billion U.S. dollars) in value annually to the national economy billions of dollars that are currently unaccounted for in official statistics.

Eadie told Xinhua that through analysis of the UN's Environment Program biodiversity assessments, and in the face of Prime Minister Gillard's recent pricing of carbon, the price tag of what is beneath Australia's oceans depends on the strength of future protective modeling.

Eadie said, "What this means is Australia's marine life, fish stocks and ecosystems will need to be protected to buffer them from the risks of over- exploitation, rising temperatures and acidity due to climate change, and pollution."

While Australia's rich marine industries such as fishing, oil and gas exploration as well as the growing marine tourism industry have long been accounted for, ecosystems themselves have been ignored, Eadie explained.

She said, "In a world of increased competition for resources and rapid environmental change, it makes economic sense to protect the asset base of the marine economy. This would support long-term jobs for commercial fishers, secure marine resources for tourism development, and provide better catches for recreational fishers."

With the federal government under embattled Prime Minister Julia Gillard imposing a 23 Australian dollars (23.8 U.S. dollars) per tonne carbon price, the CPD report has been able to estimate Australia's marine domain to be worth 15.9 billion U.S. dollars.

But with the Gillard government investing enormous political capital in the creation of a controversial carbon tax, the greatest single value lays in the ocean's use as a carbon sink.

Eadie estimates that carbon sinks such as coastal sea-grass beds, marine parks of ecological value and coral reefs could be worth over 80 U.S. dollars per hectare.

The open ocean, which makes up most of the 10.2 million square kilometer marine territory counted in the report, was worth over 10 U.S. dollars per hectare.

However, Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in the U.S. challenges the concept saying that the practice of accessing and quantifying resources from the deep oceans is unsustainable.

"The deep sea is the world's worst place to catch fish," he told Xinhua. "Professional and illegal fishermen target and deplete small areas in the open ocean, destroying deep-sea coral in the process before moving on."

According to Norse deep-water species quickly become overfished and tend to grow very slowly in the cool, deep waters, and some can live to be nearly 125 years old.

Eadie said stronger protection across ocean resources would economically benefit Australia at a time when global fisheries were being depleted.

"Without effective policies to protect our ocean wealth, we risk over 25 billion U.S. dollars a year in essential ecosystem services, along with 9,000 direct jobs in commercial fishing and a marine tourism industry worth more than 11 billion U.S. dollars per year.

"As global fish stocks decline and the risk of ecosystem co