Healthy ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves are critical to small island society. Caribbean island inhabitants have always lived in balance with nature. However, developmental pressures challenge the physical and economic security of these islands. In the current era of financial insecurity and environmental degradation it becomes clear that classical investments in a strong economy are not always contributing to a healthy environment. It is therefore key to understand how nature contributes to a small island economy and human wellbeing. Placing economic value on ecosystem services can justify funding for nature conservation and mobilise political support.
Recent research on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity (TEEB) in Bonaire drew attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity. It also highlighted the growing cost of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation by assigning economic values to Bonaire’s main ecosystem services. Over 1,500 persons, including tourists, fishermen, local residents and citizens of the Netherlands, were interviewed. This data was used to estimate individual’s willingness to pay to protect Bonaire’s natural resources, as well as mechanisms (e.g. user fees) through which such payments would be transferred. A scenario analysis was conducted and used to inform decision makers about which strategies to protect the ecosystems of Bonaire would be most effective. The current total economic value (TEV) of Bonaire’s ecosystem services is US$ 105 million per annum. As long as present threats are unmanaged, the TEV of Bonairean nature can decrease in just ten years to around US$ 60 million and to less than US$ 40 million in 30 years. These results are being used to raise awareness, support decision-making, develop sustainable financing mechanisms and serve as input for integrated spatial planning.