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Beach erosion could cost J'can tourism US$23m/year

60 per cent reefs under 'high to very high threat'

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 | 10:15 AM    

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BEACH erosion due to the loss of coral reefs could cost Jamaica US$23 million in lost tourism revenue per year, according to a survey by theWorld Resources Institute (WRI), the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Marine Geology Unit (MGU), the Mona GeoInformatics Institute (MGI), and the Nature Conservancy (TNC).

The study, 'Coastal Capital: Jamaica', said that reef-related fisheries contribute US$34.3 million annually to the economy.

“Reefs are not only a source of wonder, they offer great value to Jamaica’s economy,” said Lieutenant Commander Richard Russell, Chief Executive Officer of the Fisheries Division, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. “Jamaica is world famous for its beautiful sand beaches, and protecting reefs is critical to ensure that Jamaica maintains its status as a top tier destination.”

The study considered tourism, fisheries, and shoreline protection. According to the analysis:

  • The loss of beach width due to coral reef degradation could reduce the number of tourists visiting Jamaica by between 9,000 and 18,000 visitors annually;
  • Reef-related fisheries support between 15,000 and 20,000 fishermen, and contribute directly and indirectly to the livelihoods of more than 100,000 people islandwide; and
  • If further reef degradation occurs, beach erosion rates could increase by more than 50 per cent in Montego Bay, 70 per cent in Ocho Rios, and 100 per cent in Negril over a 10-year period.

“For the first time, we have modeled the link between reef degradation and beach erosion to assess the economic impacts on tourism,” said Benjamin Kushner, Research Analyst at WRI. “Our findings clearly demonstrate how Jamaica’s coastal tourism is tied to the health of its coral reefs.”

According to Reefs at Risk Revisited, a report released by WRI earlier this year, all of Jamaica’s coral reefs are currently under threat, with more than 60 per cent in the high to very high categories.

Leading threats include overfishing and bad fishing, which the study said threaten all Jamaican reefs; watershed-based pollution and coastal development, which threaten nearly 60 per cent of reefs; and marine-based pollution, which threatens more than 30 per cent of reefs. Global threats, such as climate change and ocean acidification, also pose significant challenges.

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