Contingent choice valuation of Florida’s coastal ecosystems

What would the impact be of contingent choice valuation studies on environmental decision-making in Florida?

Florida is no stranger to controversial environmental disasters making the news. Take this summer’s Indian River Lagoon fiasco for example. Maybe it is time for Florida’s elected leaders to commission a quantitative, economic analysis of the value that the public holds for the character and “the sense of place” Florida’s coastal ecosystems provide. This sense of place causes 1000 people to pick up and move to Florida every day, and nearly 90 million to vacation there annually.

Mangroves off US1 in Key Largo

I propose state level environmental policy to be made based on what lawmakers tout as their primary focus: the economy. The best type of assessment in the case of Florida’s coastal ecosystems is what’s called a “resource value” or contingent choice survey in environmental economics. This would involve a statewide survey to estimate the relative preferences that Florida residents and homeowners have for preserving our state’s abundant coastal resources that include: coral reefs, mangroves, salt marshes, dunes and maritime forests, that ultimately connect to our rivers, springs, and wetlands. The output of the study is the ability to rank difference scenarios of conservation, restoration, or no-action, based on the willingness to pay of the Florida public.

When these surveys get administered to residents, the goal is to estimate the public’s preferences, priorities, and values for Floridian coastal ecosystems.

Intracoastal marina and fishing area, Palm Beach County

Residents would choose between bundles of options that vary by cost, environmental, and aesthetic dimensions. This is best illustrated with an example. A question on the survey would ask people about a stretch of mangroves adjacent to a particular high-traffic marina. This mangrove forest degraded by erosion from boat traffic, pollution, and rubbish should be kept as is, preserved, or restored. The cost for the first option is $0, the second option is x, and the third option is 4x.

From these choices, it is possible to place a relative value on environmental policy results and the public’s willingness to trade off different packages of ecosystem restoration interventions.

Mangroves near condos on Intracoastal, Palm Beach County

Key to making these types of valuation studies relevant is involving key stakeholders from the onset. This not only ensures that the study employs the most current science and technical information, but also that it considers policy action that is actually in the works. This would mean speaking with stakeholder groups such as Intracoastal marina owners and charter operators, dive shops, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, hotels, boaters associations, birders, kayakers, and so on.

Analysis would involve simple statistics and give political leaders much more to consider in their cost benefit calculations that fail to include estimates of value the public places on improving coastal ecosystems.

Coastal Revetments in Key West

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