The Florida manatee and eco-tourism: toward a safe minimum standard

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Department of Social Sciences


Development of a safe minimum standard (SMS) is proposed for the Florida manatee. Analysis was conducted to determine if preservation benefits of its recovery exceeded forgone development benefits. The manatee is a long-term endangered marine mammal that has brought millions of dollars to many coastal Florida communities. Its population has increased significantly in recent years. However, in part due to frequent motorboat collisions related injuries and deaths, the mammal continues to need protection and its long-term prospects are highly uncertain. Measurable protection benefits include local tourism revenues, as coastal Florida experiences significant manatee-related tourism, and ecological services performed by manatees through consumption of hydra in waterways, which otherwise have to be dredged. To account for the more difficult to measure preservation benefits, a contingent valuation method (CVM) survey was sent to a random sample of Citrus County, Florida residents. This county contains important winter habitat and receives significant manatee-related tourism. The CVM survey described a hypothetical market to measure household willingness to pay to protect manatees. Statistical analysis was performed on the determinants of the value of manatee preservation. Forgone net development benefits were proxied only on the cost of law enforcement of boating speed limits. The study found that the benefits of manatee protection in Citrus County greatly exceeded the development benefits foregone by approximately $8.2–$9 million, primarily related to eco-tourism. These results support an SMS policy at current population levels or higher.

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Ecological Economics