09/12/2005 01:22 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Katrina and the 'Ocean Economy'

The economic costs of Hurricane Katrina won't likely be tallied for months or even years -- and probably never fully, when one considers such things as the loss of nature's services such as soil erosion and pest control, the loss of Gulf Coast fisheries, and many other less-tangible costs. The economic focus will be on the things that can be rebuilt.

But the value of coasts can be much greater than that, as a recently published but little-noticed study shows. That study, by the National Ocean Economics Program, attempted to measure "California's ocean economy." It highlights the economic importance of the ocean and coast to California and the U.S. and underscores the need for better protect coasts -- not just for the human lives and livelihoods that rely on the coasts' well-being, but also for the deeper role they play in the economy.

According to the report:

California has the largest Ocean Economy in the U.S., ranking number one overall for both employment and gross state product (GSP), an impressive position, because California was the fifth-largest economy in the world in 2000. The sectors of the ocean economy studied include: (1) coastal construction, (2) living resources, (3) offshore minerals, (4) ship and boat building and repair, (5) maritime transportation and ports, and (6) coastal tourism and recreation. The total GSP of California's Ocean Economy in 2000 was approximately $42.9 billion. California's Ocean Economy directly provided approximately 408,000 jobs in 2000, and almost 700,000 jobs when multiplier effects are included. It provided more than $11.4 billion in wages and salaries in 2000, and more than $24 billion when multiplier effects are included.

It's important to note that these impressive figures don't include everything, such as the value of oceans to federal, state, or local government agencies; marine science and education; real estate; fisheries harvesting; and some other values of coastal economies.

But it's clear from the report that the value of the Ocean Economy is a significant component of GNP -- and not just in California, of course. As Congress and the nation confront the post-Katrina world -- everything from hurricane protection to offshore drilling to bolstering the security of our coastal borders -- it's critical that the discussions and policy analyses accompanying these policy discussions include a sea change in how we value our coasts.