Cool economics – the $56 billion value of the Great Barrier Reef

As a consulting economist, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some pretty cool clients on some pretty cool projects over the years.

For Google, Deloitte Access Economics has put a value on greater workplace collaboration. For Uber we’ve looked at the economic effects of ridesharing in Australia. And for Airbnb, we’ve done the same when it comes to the accommodation sharing economy.

In 2013, we were asked to value the iconic Sydney Opera House ($4.6 billion in economic, cultural and digital value)…and it was this project that led us to an even more monumental task – calculating the economic, social and icon value of one of the world’s most important natural assets and wonders in the Great Barrier Reef.

We all know the Reef is big. It’s nearly 350,000 square kilometres big. As the world’s largest living thing, it’s visible-from-space-big. And we know that it is a very big contributor to Australia’s economy and our international brand. But it’s also in trouble, and it’s irreplaceable.

So to focus local and global minds on this local and global icon, help us appreciate its importance, and shape thinking and policy around its future, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation asked us to run the valuation numbers.

Needless to say, the exercise was a little more complex than this suggests. In fact, the task was challenging, enervating…and just a little sobering.

When we started, we assumed we were going to be coming up with some pretty big numbers, but even we were surprised by just how big they were. Drawing on more than 80 economic and scientific data sources, models, and valuators as well as a survey of 1500 Australian and international respondents from 10 countries, we found that the Reef is worth a staggering A$56 billion, including a direct contribution of A$6.4 billion dollars to Australia’s economy, A$29 billion in tourism benefits, and directly supporting 64,000 jobs.

And that’s just on the surface. The Reef’s true value actually runs far deeper, and we found that 65% of people value it as Australia’s most iconic natural site, over half feel it’s vital to the planet, and two-thirds would pay to protect it.

We recently helped the Foundation launch the report on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays (and including a crack-of-dawn appearance on Nine’s Today show) – and the response in Australia and around the world has been amazing.

Speaking for the team that contributed to this project, we’ve all been affected in some way by our focus on this amazing living and breathing thing. And we hope our report is another step toward truly understanding what’s at stake for its future, as most of us can’t, and don’t want to, imagine a world without it.

John O’Mahony is a Deloitte Access Economics partner and principle author of At what price? The economic, social and icon value of the Great Barrier Reef.

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