With support from the Alex C. Walker Foundation, PERC partnered with Brett Howell (’11 PEI) and the Georgia Aquarium to host a two-day workshop exploring viability of an alternative framework for managing Florida’s coral reefs, one based on clearly defined, secure, and transferable property rights.
Despite their ecological and economic importance, Florida’s coral reefs are teetering on the verge of collapse. Scientific studies point to the impact of effluent discharges from municipal storm and wastewater treatment facilities along the coast. Other reports document the physical destruction caused by boat groundings, fishing equipment, and recreational divers. Policy makers seeking to reverse the coral decline are contemplating additional regulations on coastal point sources, increased fines for boat collisions, and extending Endangered Species Act protections. All regulatory in nature, these policies are aimed at equating the private and social costs of reef deterioration.
Rather than relying on the political process to determine the optimal level of reef protection, clearly defined and transferable property rights would allow voluntary trades to occur between competing reef users, namely divers, anglers, boat captains, conservation organizations, and coastal communities. Already, conservation entrepreneurs have developed methods for growing imperiled coral species in nurseries and replanting them on reefs. A market-based management approach that rewards this kind of innovative stewardship—and creates accountability for reef deterioration—has greater potential to enhance Florida’s coral resources than the command-and-control policies currently under consideration.
The workshop explored how voluntary agreements between reef users and reef conservationists could slow the decline of Florida’s coral reefs and accelerate private restoration efforts. The event brought together a mix of conservation organizations, government agencies, and scientific experts to explore the practical issues of funding reef restoration with voluntary payments from reef users. A coalition of workshop participants later submitted this public comment to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.