By: Jason Landrum
Does marine debris influence the recreational value of our public beaches?
Marine debris is a persistent problem that alters the value of recreational areas, such as beaches, but few studies have attempted to estimate these economic costs. To fill this knowledge gap, the NOAA Marine Debris Program contracted Industrial Economics, Inc. to conduct a preliminary study to estimate the costs of marine debris to beach visitors in and around Orange County, California.
How can marine debris alter value? Let’s break it down:
Beach recreation is popular in the United States, however, the presence of marine debris, such as plastic bottles, candy wrappers, and other trash can cause visitors to avoid using them. Thus, marine debris may prove “costly” to coastal communities by attracting fewer beachgoers each year or causing those beachgoers to travel to other recreational areas.
Here at NOAA, we are interested in estimating how the presence of marine debris alters the value of these recreational activities for you. Recreational experiences are difficult to put a price tag on but, if asked, how much would you be willing to pay to venture to the beach for a weekend filled with fun in the sun and sand? It’s unlikely something that you’ve thought about or written down over time!
Economic tools can be used to estimate the value of recreational activities at beaches. Economists estimate these values by tracking the costs, or the “price” people pay to visit beaches in their free time. For example, how much did you spend on gas to get there? Was there a fee to park? Measuring the price people pay to visit a certain beach and contrasting that with the price of all the other beaches they could have visited helps reveal how much a public beach is worth to its visitors. Additionally, economists can estimate the loss of the value of recreational activities due to the presence of marine debris. If the presence of marine debris reduces the quality of recreation at beaches, beachgoers will likely avoid those beaches and substitute other sites (or even other recreational activities) because the benefit they receive is lower than the price they would have paid to visit those beaches.
For our project, Industrial Economics, Inc. will survey 4,000 Orange County residents about their travel preferences and costs in order to estimate how valuable local beaches are for these coastal communities. Additionally, Industrial Economics, Inc. will measure marine debris at some of those beaches so that they can directly estimate the lost value generated by the presence of that debris.
Marine debris has many impacts, but economic loss is one we’re trying to understand better. Knowing this kind of information affects communities and encourages the beach-going public to make better choices. NOAA will use the study results to refine future marine debris economic cost assessments, and identify priority areas where marine debris prevention and removal efforts are needed. Stay tuned for updates on the project!