The Inertia for Good Editor
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The Inertia

Pinpointing a monetary value on ocean recreation seems like an abstract task. But then again, once you start to list the industries that rely on tourism along the coast and all the tentacles attached to it, you can imagine the zeroes start to pile up behind that dollar sign pretty quickly. According to NOAA’s first ever National Ocean Recreation Expenditure Survey, you’re going to see at least nine zeroes once it’s all tallied up.

The new report is actually five years in the making, with NOAA Fisheries social scientists choosing to study how many people made visits to the ocean and coastal regions in 2012. Of the 49 million adults that participated in ocean and coastal recreation that year, they found that a combined 1.2 billion days were spent along the coasts. Simply viewing and photographing the ocean was the top activity in that year, which shouldn’t be a surprise with the prominence of social media. And what did it all amount to in dollars and cents?

-$141 billion in ocean recreation-related goods and services.

-$409 billion in income to businesses.

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-$135 billion to household incomes.

“Nothing of this magnitude had been attempted before, so it took a long time to collect the data, analyze it, and pull it together into a comprehensive report,” said co-author Scott Steinback, an economist in the Social Sciences Branch at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

Recreational fishing; recreational shell fishing; hunting waterfowl or other animals; viewing or photographing the ocean; beach combing, tide-pooling or collecting items; water contact sports; boating and associated activities; and outdoor activities not involving water contact were the eight categories of pursuits assigned through the survey, all broken up along the Pacific, New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Inland regions. Since the Great Lakes were excluded to focus specifically on ocean-related activities and not just water-related activities, that meant the survey covered a grand total of 88,633 miles of shoreline. Forty-eight percent of that land is in the Pacific alone. There, a total of $39 billion were spent on “durable and trip-related goods and services” over the year. By contrast, New England’s coast drew in the smallest amount of money at $11 billion.

“This study is an important contribution to our understanding of how a wide range of ocean and coastal activities contribute to our national and regional economies,” said co-author Rosemary Kosaka from the NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center laboratory in Santa Cruz, CA. “It is the first study to estimate participation and effort levels, and the economic contribution of these activities, using data collected from ocean recreation participants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia — not just coastal states. If someone in Ohio made a trip to the Jersey shore to hang out at the beach and they participated in our survey, their activities would be included in our estimates. We can now start to put that activity in context with other ocean and coastal activities.”