Innovation Award 2017_Finalist_RGBThe World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has announced that The Mapping Ocean Wealth Initiative is among the finalists for the 2017 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.  The WTTC is dedicated to promoting awareness of the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to the economy, while promoting market expansion in harmony with the environment.  The Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are aimed at recognizing best practices in sustainable tourism.

The Mapping Ocean Wealth Initiative creates novel techniques for mapping the geographic distribution of ecosystem services – the benefits that natural ecosystems can provide to people. Ecosystem services can include food production, coastal protection, and tourism and recreation enhancement. Coral reefs are a prime example of an ecosystem that draws visitors to a coastal area.  These visitors enjoy both direct and indirect benefits of the reef ecosystem, including access to prime diving and snorkeling areas, calm waters, scenic beaches and fresh seafood, all while supporting local industries.

However, the economic value of coral reefs can vary widely, and visualizing this variability can help scientists and managers identify priority conservation targets. To map the value of coral reef areas, Mapping Ocean Wealth scientists incorporated variables including national tourism statistics, number of hotel rooms, locations of dive shops, crowd-sourced dive sites, and the locations of underwater photographs from Flickr into a model and a map which depicts the economic values of coral reefs across the globe.  Knowing the locations of high value reefs exist helps to promote sustainable tourism in these areas so both tourists and local populations can continue to enjoy the benefits of healthy coral reef ecosystems.  For more information on these methods and to view these maps, visit the Mapping Ocean Wealth site.

Mapping Ocean Wealth is one of three finalists for the Innovation Award, which is one of five award categories. Innovation Award finalists are recognized for providing innovative solutions to overcoming the challenges faced by the travel and tourism sector in implementing sustainability in practice. This award would recognize the Nature Conservancy for using the latest crowdsourcing and data mapping techniques to quantify for the first time the total and local value of the world’s coral reefs to tourism, and finding that on an annual basis, coral reef tourism represents an economic value of $38 billion. Winners will be announced at the WTTC Global Summit in April 2017.

Read the full press release here.

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Top image: ©Ami Vitale