x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

What would you pay to save the coral? UAE residents asked

Architect’s research reveals how much UAE residents would contribute to conservation.

The coral reefs in Dibba have proven unusually resistant to climate change, but scientists are worried they may not be able to take much more. Reuters
The coral reefs in Dibba have proven unusually resistant to climate change, but scientists are worried they may not be able to take much more. Reuters

DUBAI // Residents are willing to pay up to Dh10,000 to support efforts to protect coral reefs, a study suggests, but a sense of responsibility for the earth decreased among wealthier respondents.

Richard Wagner, an architect and sustainability consultant in Dubai, carried out the study to understand what motivates people to support coral reef conservation programmes.

“I think people are usually more drawn to the more obvious conservation projects such as ones aiming to protect resources on land,” he said. “When it comes to coral reefs, ‘out of sight out of mind’ applies quite well.”

Mr Wagner polled nearly 400 residents between May and June 2010. Altogether, the responses of about 300 were eligible for use. The results were finalised in July 2011 and are being disclosed publicly for the first time.

Despite coastal and offshore development, the UAE still has vibrant coral reefs that support tourism and act as nurseries for many commercially important fish species.

Many of the coral species are surviving at the threshold of known tolerance for variables such as salinity and temperatures. This makes them interesting for scientists, and there is a major study of them under way in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Wagner calculated that respondents were willing to pay an average of Dh252 as a one-off contribution towards coral protection.

“This is quite a high amount, actually,” he said.

However, there were large variations within the sample, with some people willing to contribute as little as Dh10 or Dh15.

“A large number of people in the survey felt they were already being squeezed and said that the Government should allocate more money, not them,” he said. “However, there were a few others who said they were going to give Dh5,000 or Dh10,000.

They were not many, but they were there and they raised the average significantly.”

In addition to determining the value of potential contributions, Mr Wagner was interested in finding the reasons some people may be more motivated to help than others.

The survey, which took respondents about 12 minutes to complete, included questions designed to measure their knowledge about coral reefs and climate change – one of the most serious threats to the reefs’ well-being and survival in the future. It also asked people whether they participated in existing environmental protection initiatives and aimed to measure how concerned they were regarding climate change.

The survey turned up some interesting results. For example, the more educated people were, or the more money they earned, the less they were concerned about their personal contribution to climate change. While nearly 40 per cent of high school graduates felt very responsible for climate change, a little more than 20 per cent of people with master’s degrees did so.

Among people with doctoral degrees, none of the respondents felt very responsible.

Similarly, among people earning fewer than Dh5,000 per month, about 45 per cent said they feel very responsible for climate change. Among people in the Dh50,000 and above bracket, fewer than 20 per cent answered similarly.

Mr Wagner also found a strong correlation between people’s knowledge of reefs, their participation in or support of existing conservation schemes and their willingness to contribute with funding to coral reef protection.

Most of the respondents who knew the exact locations of some reefs or who knew that corals are animals were also among those most willing to help with significant donations.

“This shows that non-governmental organisations working in this field are having some educational effect as well by making people more aware and more willing to help,” said Mr Wagner. “We really need to support these groups more to promote those causes further.”

vtodorova@thenational.ae