VIMS professor helps lead international study of ocean value
by David Malmquist | March 21, 2012
Professor Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is a co-editor of “Valuing the Ocean” a major new study by an international team of scientists and economists that attempts to measure the ocean’s monetary value and to tally the costs and savings associated with human decisions affecting ocean health.
The study estimates that if human impacts on the ocean continue unabated, declines in ocean health and services will cost the global economy $428 billion per year by 2050, and $1.979 trillion per year by 2100. Alternatively, steps to reduce these impacts could save more than a trillion dollars per year by 2100, reducing the cost of human impacts to $612 billion.
Diaz says the study report “describes the state of the science for 6 threats to the global ocean, what can happen if all these threats act together, and the economic consequences of taking or not taking action.” He notes that the study is unique in stressing the interactions between and among multiple threats, which include acidification, low-oxygen “dead zones,” overfishing, pollution, sea-level rise, and warming.
In addition to co-editing the 300-page study, Diaz is a lead author on the chapters that monetize the impacts of dead zones and the combined effects of multiple stressors. Research by Diaz and colleagues shows that over-fertilization of ocean waters has led to a sharp increase in the number, size, and duration of low-oxygen dead zones around the world over the last 50 years, which could lead to major impacts on fisheries. The study estimates an annual decrease in global fisheries value of $88 billion by 2050, and $343 billion by 2100, unless steps are taken to reduce nutrient inputs and global warming. Warmer water holds less oxygen, thereby intensifying dead zones.