A new economic study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program found that California residents lose millions of dollars each year avoiding littered, local beaches in favour of choosing cleaner beaches that are farther away and may cost more to reach.
Most people are familiar with the impact that marine debris has on our oceans. Wildlife get tanged up in discarded fishing gear, rubber bands, balloon strings or six-pack rings, leading to injury, suffocation, starvation and even death. Many animals have even been known to ingest marine debris, mistaking it for food. The results are painful and deadly, explains the NOAA.
But marine debris is also an eyesore along shorelines, diminishing the beauty of coasts and beaches. This in turn causes economic losses as people avoid littered beaches. The NOAA Marine Debris Program set out to discover if they could quantify such costs.
The researchers chose Orange County in Southern California as a study location because beach recreation is an important part of the local culture and residents have a wide variety of beaches from which to choose, some of which are likely to have high levels of marine debris. Plastic debris and food wrappers were the most abundant debris types observed across the 31 beaches studied by the NOAA.
The study found that Orange County residents are concerned about marine debris, and it significantly influences their decisions to go to the beach. 66 per cent respondents said that no marine debris on the beach and good water quality are the two most important beach characteristics to them.
By developing a travel cost model that economists commonly use to estimate the value people derive from recreation at beaches, lakes and parks, the researchers calculated that reducing marine debris even by 25 per cent at beaches in and near Orange County could save residents roughly 32 million dollars during three months in the summer. By reducing it by 75 per cent, the savings jump to 106 million dollars, and up to 148 million if all marine debris is cleaned up.
“This study shows that beachgoers are worried about marine debris and will seek out cleaner beaches for recreation at a cost,” said Nancy Wallace, Marine Debris Program director. “Reducing or eliminating marine debris from our beaches is critical, because littered shorelines are costing people more than we anticipated.”