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General public willing to pay for global coral reef conservation

31 August 2023
Mass coral reef bleaching events have been increasing in frequency and severity worldwide. However, citizens in both high- and low-income countries are willing to make large contributions to coral reef conservation measures, a new study by VU Amsterdam environmental economist Peter Robinson finds.

The paper, published in Nature Sustainability, exposes the general public’s preferences for the future of coral reefs. Robinson, researcher at the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) concludes that coral reef scarcity increases willingness to pay for conservation, both in high- and low-income countries. However, the preferred measures of the public are not necessarily the most effective ones, as they do not always align with scientifically recommended interventions. “There may be a need to convince the public of the relative efficacy of less-popular measures, for example, through education campaigns,” Robinson says. 

Not a luxury issue 
Robinson and his fellow researchers surveyed about 10,000 residents of twelve countries that vary in terms of income and proximity to coral reefs. They concluded that there is broad support for conservation among respondents, regardless of their proximity to coral reefs. At the individual level, support is highest among people who are more patient, have higher household incomes, and report that they recently watched documentaries related to sustainability issues in oceans. Older people have a lower demand for conservation. Furthermore, the willingness to pay for the preservation of coral reefs is the highest in low-income countries. According to the researchers, this shows that conservation is not a luxury issue. 

Preferences and effectiveness 
The study also shows that the public’s preferred policies for conservation do not always align with scientifically recommended interventions. In certain countries, people have a strong preference for reef restoration projects, which have been shown to have varying rates of success. The finding that individuals respond strongly to perceived scarcity of coral reefs suggests that this can be a key factor in generating public support for conservation. 

The research for the article, ‘A global analysis of coral reef conservation preferences’, was supported by the BiodivERsA REEF-FUTURES project under the BiodivScen ERA-NET COFUND programme and received funding from the Dutch Research Council (NWO).