Australia's economy is all at sea; plus conflict on happy island.
Surfers will regularly dodge bull sharks and a fast-moving current to get to the legendary break at South Stradbroke Island. For many, the exhilaration is priceless. But according to the researcher and surfer Neil Lazarow, the break off Queensland’s Gold Coast is worth about AU$20m (€12m) a year, if you add up what surfers spend on food, equipment and petrol to get to the spot. Lazarow, a research fellow for coastal management at Griffith University, decided to value “Straddie” after the state government mooted plans to build a cruise-ship terminal nearby.
While the ships would bring in around $8m (€4.8m) annually, Lazarow found surfing was three times as valuable. For a plethora of reasons, the cruise-ship project was abandoned.
But other surf spots are vanishing. Countless surfing breaks – some of them so good they are part of the pro surfing World Championship Tour – are regularly being lost to development.
A sand-pumping project near Kirra, off the Gold Coast, destroyed arguably the best break in the world. Spain’s Mundaka vanished due to alterations made to a nearby estuary. Both sites are now slowly being rehabilitated.
Lazarow hopes that by proving the economic value of a surf spot, local authorities around the world will rethink developments, which are usually about improving fisheries.
In the meantime, he has the task of getting surfers off their boards to fill in forms at goodplanet.com. “The whole thing about surfing is checking out of society, not about forming lobby groups to petition against things that are being built or constructed,” he says.
The South Pacific nation of Vanuatu was under a state of emergency in March following a tribal clash between Ambrym and Tannese islanders in the capital Port Vila. Caused by allegations of sorcery (known locally as nakaimas), three people died in the resulting melée, with a dozen wounded and houses torched.
It’s been a brief setback for the nation dubbed “the happiest in the world” last year by the British think-tank New Economics Foundation, which established the Happy Planet Index (HPI). Rather than the traditional modelling of countries based on GDP, the HPI lists 178 countries and measures wellbeing according to indicators such as life expectancy, life satisfaction and environmental footprint. Vanuatu was ranked top, with Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Panama completing the top five. Zimbabwe was last. G8 nations were ranked between 66 (Italy) and 129 (France). Britain was 108.
Policy director Andrew Simms claims the index “addresses the relative success or failure of countries in giving their citizens a good life while respecting the environmental resource limits on which all our lives depend.”
Vanuatu’s capital has now returned to its normal, languid self. Fears of payback violence have not materialised in this tribal society of 200,000 people that has so far managed to avoid the conflicts that have plagued many of its neighbours such as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji (see Australia’s Accidental Empire).