Private companies and nonprofits could lease plots on Florida’s reefs and charge fees to dive boats, fishing charters and others to use them under a proposal raised for discussion by an environmental group of influential conservatives and libertarians.
The proposal, which also advocates opening the banned commercial trade of corals, is designed to encourage conservation and restoration of Florida’s coral reefs by creating a financial incentive to do so. The Conservation Leadership Council released the proposal and five other “actionable suggestions” at its inaugural conference in Washington this month.
“We believe many of the best solutions will be found in market-oriented policy,” council member Gale Norton, who was secretary of the interior during the George W. Bush administration, said at the opening of the conference. “The Conservation Leadership Council looks for fresh proposals that can reach environmental goals while finding mechanisms that conservatives and libertarians can embrace.”
However, some reef users are not embracing the idea.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Skip Commagere, owner of Force-E dive shops in Riviera Beach, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach. “I’m slightly to the right of Attila the Hun, but I’m at a loss for trying to figure out how this could benefit anyone.”
The council hopes to establish “the conservative voice for environmental stewardship” rooted in “fiscal responsibility, limited government and market entrepreneurship.” Norton, who was travelling after the conference, referred questions about the proposal to a spokesperson, who did not contact The Palm Beach Post.
Kameran Onley, a board member and director of U.S. Marine Policy for the Nature Conservancy, said in an email that “the ideas put forward in the publication are simply intended to stimulate discussion. They are not endorsed by the CLC and are not endorsed by The Nature Conservancy.”
According to the council’s press release about its conference earlier this month, the six policy studies commissioned by the council also address operating state parks through public-private partnerships that would allow private food concessions, retail, lodging and overall management of state parks. Another policy paper proposes creating a credit-trading system to protect threatened species.
The theory behind the reef proposal is that there is little public sector incentive to protect and restore the reefs because there is “no clear ownership… and no meaningful limit on access.”
Private companies and nonprofits would have a financial stake in the health of the reef — and therefore pay for preservation and restoration — if they could charge for access, the council policy paper contends. “Market-based strategies have the potential to generate stable and long-term funding… but only if the legal institutions governing coral reefs allow producers of reef restoration to charge the consumer of reef restoration.”
Lessees could also limit damage to the reef by excluding users who might damage it by dragging anchors or harvesting species living on the reef, it said. According to the policy paper: “Since no one owns the coral reefs off Florida’s coast, no one group has taken ownership of the problem of reef degradation… The issue is one of property rights.”