The Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast is not only the world's largest living structure, but it is also one of the most valuable. According to Deloitte Access Economics, the Great Barrier Reef's estimated worth is US $42 billion.
''That's more than 12 Sydney Opera Houses, or the cost of building Australia's new submarines,'' the researchers wrote. ''It's even more than four times the length of the Great Wall of China in $100 notes.''
According to CNN, the market value of the reef is a close match to that of major auto companies such as Honda and BMW.
Spanning an area larger than the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the Netherlands put together, is not only a haven for countless thousands of marine species. The Great Barrier Reef also provides enormous economic services to people, with tourism, fishing, and recreational and scientific activities associated with the reef supporting 64,000 jobs and contributing $4.9 billion to the Australian GDP, according to an analysis published by the international financial advisory service.
''The livelihoods and businesses the Great Barrier Reef supports across Australia far exceeds the numbers supported by many industries we would consider too big to fail,'' according to the by Deloitte Access Economics report titled 'At what price? The economic, social and icon value of the Great Barrier Reef'.
''This timely report is a much needed, holistic view of the incredible economic value and opportunities provided by the Great Barrier Reef. Any failure to protect this indispensable natural resource would have profound impacts not only to Australia but around the world,'' former US Vice President Al Gore said in reaction to the report.
But others scoff at the very idea of trying to put a monetary value on unique natural resources like the reef. ''We need to stop asking accountants with a narrow materialistic worldview to calculate the value of natural assets like the Great Barrier Reef ... the value from an anthropological utilitarian view is completely irrelevant,'' an environmentalist wrote to National Geographic.
''The GBR is one of the major habitats of marine diversity in the world ... the true value to the sustenance of our world is incalculable and it is certainly worth tens of trillions of dollars.''
The Deloitte analysis follows the unprecedented massive damage done to the Great Barrier Reef for two consecutive years by bleaching, a process whereby the warming ocean has been killing off much of the coral.
Bleaching occurs when corals are stressed by changes in their environment, leading them to discharge tiny photosynthetic algae, known as zooxanthellae.
''Today, our reef is under threat like never before,'' Great Barrier Reef Foundation Chair John Schubert said in the foreword to the report. ''Two consecutive years of global coral bleaching are unprecedented, while increasingly frequent extreme weather events and water quality issues continue to affect Reef health. So there has never been a more critical time to understand precisely what the Reef contributes and, therefore, what we stand to lose without it.''
While calculating the reef's worth, the economists factored in scientific research in addition to it's social, economic and asset value. Over half of the estimated amount comes from Australians visiting the reef as tourists, with another $18 billion stemming from people who value the reef based on its iconic status but have yet to visit.
Just over $2 billion comes from people who use the reef on a daily basis.
"With the reef under threat, our report is a major step in looking to value nature's significance in monetary terms and using this information to help inform what we do to protect and save important natural assets,'' Deloitte partner John O'Mahony said in a statement.
Australia's efforts to preserve the reef include focusing on a sustainable, functional reef as impacts arise, including climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts into their plans, improving the quality of the water around the reef, and reducing local pressures, according to a release from the government.