Coral reefs also called "the tropical rainforests of the oceans" (Connell, 1978) provide various ecological, social and economical services. Costanza et al. (1998) report that coral reefs, with their extremely rich biodiversity, possess much greater net primary production (NPP) than the open ocean. Additionally, despite covering less than 0.2% of the ocean floor, approximately 25% of ocean species reside in the coral reefs, and as a consequence, the reefs have very high complexity (Roberts, 2003).
Despite their value and the increasing call for conservation and sustainable management by scientists, governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), coral reefs have been degrading significantly during the past several decades. This study investigates the socioeconomic values of coral reefs, their state of degradation and conservation management initiatives with particular focus on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The data for this study have been gathered from the published research articles, International Coral Reef Information Network (ICRIN), the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), the Coral Reef Conservation and Research Center (WWF Japan), recent data published by Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and the Japanese Ministry of Environment Annual Reports.
Coral Reef Organisms
Coral reefs, resembling oases in a desert, support communities with diverse organisms in tropical and subtropical oceans (Karleskint, Tuner, & Small, 2010). The symbiosis between several species of algae, known as zooxanthellae, and the coral animal forms the coral reef ecosystem, which provides food and shelter for other marine organisms in the community. Moreover, reef structures protect costal area by minimizing the wave impact of storms and Tsunami damages as reported for many islands in Maldives in the Asian Tsunami in 2004 (Hookway, 2004). A simulation study showed that a wide barrier reef within one or two meter of the sea surface reduces the tsunami run-up on the coastline by 50%, which helps to lower the potential disaster (Kunkel, Hallberg, & Oppenheimer, 2006).
CORAL REEFS SOCIO-ECONOMIC VALUES
There has been considerable attention on the values of coral reefs, and some researchers have estimated the socio-economic values of corals in order to initiate and to enhance the conservation and restoration efforts. Cesar et al. (2003) estimates the annual economic value of goods and services of global coral reefs to be at 29.8 billion dollars (U.S.) and 1.66 billion for coral reefs in Japan. The breakdown of their calculations for the net potential benefits of the global and Japanese coral reefs is presented in the Table 1. It should be noted that the value estimates for coral reefs' function to protect the coastlines from tsunamis are not included in the calculation.
The Japanese Ministry of the Environment calculated the annual economic value of services of Japanese coral reef ecosystem during fiscal year 2007 (from April 1st, 2007 to March 31st, 2008). The calculation reports an annual economic value of 239.9 billion yen for tourism and recreation, 10.7 billion yen for commercial marine products and 7.5 billion yen on protection against wave and natural erosions. The report also indicates an average annual economic value of 10.5 billion yen for commercial marine products and 2.8 billion yen for tourism and recreation on Okinawa Island (FY2002~2006; The Japanese Ministry of Environment Report, 2008).
The earlier work of Costanza et al. (1997) reported the average global values of services coral reef ecosystems provide annually. They estimated 58 USD/ha/yr for waste treatment value (such as pollution control and detoxification) and 2,750 USD/ha/yr for disturbance regulation value (such as storm protection) (See Costanza et al. 1997 Table 1 for the list of values of the services coral reefs). Using the values of Costanza et al. and …