Study Says Property Rights Could Help Coral Reefs

Published August 2, 2016

Coral reefs are essential to the health of ocean ecosystems and the millions of people who depend on them for their sustenance and livelihoods.

In order to better preserve them, new approaches are necessary, concludes a new report in the influential academic journal Nature.

One of the approaches discussed in the article was the application of property rights to coral reefs. According to the report, property rights could facilitate innovative conservation actions that could prevent coral-reef degradation and enhance reef productivity.

Property Rights Produce Incentives

John A. Baden, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, says he is not surprised by the findings because substantial literature exists describing how property rights protect the ocean environment, especially in the areas of oyster beds and lobster harvesting.

Baden also says coral-reef property rights would provide economic benefits.

“If clear property rights could be established, fishermen would have an economic incentive to take care of them,” Baden said.

Ownership Drives Protection

Renato Molina, a graduate student-fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, says there would be strong incentives to maintain the integrity and health of coral reefs if they were privately owned.

“Once a person gains property rights to a portion of a coral reef, he or she will then want to keep capturing the benefits flowing from the reef, whether those benefits are a revenue stream or something more emotional or aesthetic,” Molina said. “The owner will do whatever is necessary to maintain the health of the reef so he can ensure fishing, eco-tourism, or whatever other uses are important to him, remain viable.

“Ownership of a coral reef makes it in that person’s best interest to maintain the reefs’ health, because if it degrades or dies, the benefits decline or cease,” Molina said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.