This relationship can be approached from multiple angles. The consequences of not preserving the marine ecosystems could be far stretching, such that it effects our food supply. Ecosystems are fragile; take a link out of the food chain and dependent species may starve if they cannot adapt. Overfishing and chemical spills can lead to such events. It is easy to think that because the ocean is so large, that a spill in one area will not have far-reaching effects. But diluting effects can drift hundreds of miles from a spill site.
Because U.S. economics is traditionally structured around oil, prevention of off-shore drilling may seem like a poor economic choice. When we have to import fossil fuels it is more expensive at every level. Depending on the distance from the supplier and the political relationship with supplier, it can be much more expensive. But we cannot continue to compromise our land and its natural inhabitants for more oil. It is much wiser and more proactive to invest in renewable energy. Every new well we create will eventually run dry, do we continue to drill until we can drill no more or do we find an alternative that is clean?
We can must also consider tourism in this discussion. Beach towns and resorts which are sought after for warm weather and rich marine life are dependent on tourism for a healthy economy. If something compromises the marine life these areas and their residents suffer. Take the recent BP spill for example. Afterwards resorts and tourist towns were forced to lie about the condition of their coasts (which were blackened with oil) in a desperate attempt to attract tourism.
On a more empirical note, economics can be used to calculate how much we should restrict fishing in order to keep a viable fish population and produce the best results for fishermen. By restricting catches, we may actually wind up increasing the profits of fishermen. If you look at the graphs on the Canadian link, you’ll see how economists have calculated that catch actually decreases when fishermen invest too heavily in ships and fishing equipment. The “Effort” axis is actually capitol investment. I’m sorry for the poor quality of that link, but I could not find a better one. However, if you pick up an environmental economics textbook at a university bookstore, you will find the same graph with a better explanation. Maximum Sustainable Yield is also a concept that you will find in environmental economics textbooks. However, there’s a pretty good explanation of that available online:
Another way to look at this is that when times are tough economically, I feel that people stop caring about things like the environment. People are stressed out and worry more about paying their bills, etc, and the environment can suffer from this neglect. The oceans are also a big source of profit for many walks of life, and when people are desperate to make money, helping the environment isn’t on the top of their list.
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