Is Demonstrating the “Bottom Line” of the Oceans More Effective Than Scientific Information in Influencing Global Change?

The World Wildlife Fund’s recent report, Reviving the Ocean Economy: The Case for Action – 2015, positions the world’s oceans with major global powers (Hoegh-Goldberg et al., 2015). The oceans are ranked as the seventh-largest economy on the planet – as if combined they were a country. The numbers are staggering: WWF conservatively estimates that the price tag for the oceans is $24 Trillion (USD), and emphasizes that two thirds of that value (roughly $16 Trillion) is dependent on healthy oceans. The report proposes eight actions that the global community should focus on to revive the condition of the oceans. The report stresses that these proposals are achievable and notes that, without action, we will soon be witnesses to an “or else” situation of extinct coral reefs and a greatly damaged ocean economy.

“We are running down our ocean assets and will push the ocean economy into the red if we do not respond to this crisis as an international community. A prudent treasurer or CEO would not wait until the next financial report to correct course. They would act now.” (Hoegh-Goldberg, 2015, p. 53)

Daniel Cressey, a senior journalist with Nature, spoke with marine scientist and lead author of the report Ove Hoegh-Goldberg (Cressey, 2015). In that interview, Hoegh-Goldberg pointed out that this “state of the oceans” report is different than others. This report captures the interaction of all the components of the ocean, rather than focussing on one sector at a time. As Hoegh-Goldberg explained, the report presents a financial and economic perspective in order to reach a different audience than previous science-based assessments. By focusing on the economic value of the oceans, and subsequent financial hardships if marine environments are allowed to continue to deteriorate as they have, the report aims to communicate the urgency of the matter to different and wider audiences for whom scientific explanations and jargon may not be convincing.

In a world where money talks, this report’s approach about the importance of the oceans is interesting. The effort to quantify ecosystem services is not a new concept. Researchers have attempted to establish the value of factors like the role of coastal vegetation in preventing damage to coastal property (Barbier et al., 2011) and many other iterations of this type of research have been reported; but, economic valuation of complex environmental factors is not easily determined (see, for example, De Groot, Alkemade, Braat, Hein, & Willemen, 2010). However, by arriving at realistic and “defensible” numbers, to use Hoegh-Goldberg’s words in his interview with Cressey, communicating the value of the oceans and ultimately the risks involved in the continuing degradation of the ocean “economy” may be a more direct way to gain the attention of those who are responsible for policy- and decision-making. Furthermore, publishing the report as an open access document and widely promoting its awareness is bound to gain more attention for the subject than most scientific publications do. The WWF report has already received extensive media attention, especially with regard to the $24 Trillion valuation of the oceans. Perhaps this unique state of the oceans report with its blunt and proactive message will serve to bridge the science-policy gap in a way that scientific publications alone have not been able to do.



Barbier, E. B., Hacker, S. D., Kennedy, C., Koch, E. W., Stier, A. C., & Silliman, B. R. (2011). The value of estuarine and coastal ecosystem services. Ecological Monographs81(2), 169-193.

Cressey, D. (2015, April 23). Oceans are “worth US$24 trillion.” Nature. Retrieved from

De Groot, R. S., Alkemade, R., Braat, L., Hein, L., & Willemen, L. (2010). Challenges in integrating the concept of ecosystem services and values in landscape planning, management and decision making. Ecological Complexity, 7(3), 260-272.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Beal, D., Chaudry, T., Elhaj, H. Abdullat, A., Etessy, P, & Smits, M. (2015). Reviving the ocean economy: The case for action – 2015. Gland, Switzerland: WWF International.


Author: Sarah Chamberlain

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