7th-largest economy at $24 trillion? Our oceans, says WWF

If our oceans were considered a country, their worth would outshine the likes of Russia and Brazil's economies, according to a new report.

The world's oceans are worth $24 trillion and generate $2.5 trillion in goods and services annually, making it technically the seventh-largest economy worldwide, according to the "Reviving the Ocean Economy" report, commissioned by the WWF, this week.

A dense school of brown striped snapper in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
© naturepl.com / David Fleetham / WWF
A dense school of brown striped snapper in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

This eye-watering asset value was determined by four components: direct output of resources ($6.9 trillion), productive coastline ($7.8 trillion), trade/transport ($5.2 trillion) and carbon absorption ($4.3 trillion).

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) admits, however, that this trillion-dollar figure is an "underestimate," as wind energy and offshore oil and gas drilling weren't factored in, due to the difficulty in calculating their exact amounts.

So if the oceans are worth so much, this should be good, right? Wrong. With enviable value and precious assets come several threats, and the WWF suggest that with not enough being done it is becoming a "matter of global urgency" for governments to combat the man-made and natural factors impacting the oceans.

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In light of the report, WWF is calling upon governments and individuals worldwide with eight action proposals, asking those such as the U.K. government to progress the development of marine conservation zones and sustainable goals.

Threats impacting the functioning of this system include pollution and destruction of marine habitats, yet one of the most destructive is climate change, which contributes to ocean acidity and impacts how marine animals live.

Fisherman holding fish in his hands, Mafamede, Mozambique.
© WWF-US / James Morgan
Fisherman holding fish in his hands, Mafamede, Mozambique.

Man-made dangers such as illegal fishing only enhances this problem, with 90 percent of fish stocks having already suffered from some form of over-exploitation.

If damage to the ecosystems continues at this rate, especially with progressive global warming, coral reefs will vanish within 35 years and those dependent on the oceans for food, jobs (tourism), products and/or coastal protection will have to find an alternative. Fast.

David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK, said in a statement online that governments and individuals alike should recognize the oceans' role and value it as "an important business asset that requires sustainable management and investment."

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"Our oceans are a climate regulator and carbon sink, supporting future global economic growth, as well as providing critical goods and services that underpin the well-being of billions of people. But rising temperatures and increased acidification put all this at risk," Nussbaum added.

So what can we do? WWF outlined three targets for 2015, which were to conserve coastal/marine zones by 10 percent (for 2020), avoid additional contribution to climate change and make ocean recovery a key topic at the U.N. Post-2015 Agenda.

"Reviving the Ocean Economy" was a collaborative effort by the WWF along with the Boston Consulting Group and the Global Change Institute; and its lead author was Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, from the institute.