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JetBlue report: Caribbean depends on tourism, which ‘relies heavily’ on healthy coral reefs

The Dominican Republic and
Puerto Rico, where JetBlue is the largest airline to both islands, benefit from
tourist spending of more than $1 billion per year — revenue that is directly
linked to healthy coral reefs.

Furthermore, the Bahamas,
Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico receive more than one million visitors per year
whose visits are directly linked to coral reefs.

Those were some of the findings
of a new report focusing on the connection between natural resources and
tourism produced by JetBlue, along with The Nature Conservancy, whose mission
is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

The report’s results revealed
that the Caribbean is more dependent on tourism than any other region across
the globe and highlights new data on the benefits that coral reefs provide to
the travel industry and the region’s economy.

Coral reef health is
diminishing from impacts such as pollution and climate change. This report,
also supported by Microsoft and the World Travel & Tourism Council,
utilized machine learning and artificial intelligence to quantify the
significant value that reefs contribute to the Caribbean economy through
reef-adjacent activities, such as sailing, diving and snorkeling, and the
direct connection on tourism.

The value of reef-associated
tourism is estimated at more than $7.9 billion annually from more than 11
million visitors. This accounts for 23 percent of all tourism spending and is
equivalent to more than 10 percent of the region’s gross domestic product, the
report shows.

This marks the second study
funded by JetBlue to measure Caribbean ecosystems and correlate it to
travel industry revenue. “Estimating Reef-Adjacent Tourism Value in the
Caribbean” follows 2015’s “EcoEarnings:
A Shore Thing.”

The updated report analyzes the
component of the travel sector that depends on coral reefs but does not make
direct use of them in the way that diving, or snorkeling does. Reef-adjacent
tourism value comes from beach activities, coastal views, delicious seafood and
tranquil waters for swimming and boating — many of the reasons people flock to
the Caribbean. The new report can be found here.

“The Caribbean and Latin
America account for one-third of JetBlue’s flying. The health and long-term
growth of this region is directly tied to our bottom line,” said Sophia
Mendelsohn, head of sustainability and environmental, social governance,
JetBlue.

“This study proves the
relationship between healthy coral reefs and tourism, and the overall financial
stability of the Caribbean. It’s time for conservation organizations like The
Nature Conservancy and the tourism industry to work together on solutions to conserve
the region’s resources,” she said.

“Scientific evidence shows that
living corals in the Caribbean have declined more than 60 percent in just the
last three decades alone,” said Luis Solórzano, executive director of The
Nature Conservancy in the Caribbean.

“The Nature Conservancy is
currently deploying innovative solutions to protect and restore coral reefs
throughout the region; we must however move faster to outpace the current rate
of degradation and increasing threats to coral reefs,” he said.

As a follow-up to this study, JetBlue is donating 50 flights to The Nature Conservancy for scientists to travel to the region to further research and help conserve coral reefs.

Methodology relied on social media
The methodology for this study was derived from one of the most prevalent
ways people communicate today – social media. Social content was analyzed using
Microsoft’s machine learning. More than 86,000 social images and nearly 6.7 million
text posts were studied for identifiers that indicated reef-adjacent
activities.

The social media metrics were
layered with traditionally sourced data from government agencies and the
tourism industry, such as surveys from visitor centers, sales figures reported
by travel-associated businesses and economic data from government accounting
systems.

“A more sustainable future
depends upon our ability to better model, monitor and manage natural resources
like coral reefs, and that will require human ingenuity paired with AI,” said Lucas
Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft.

“For this report, Azure
Cognitive Services helped accurately identify coral reef images throughout the
Caribbean that were already available on the internet so they could then be
used in a tourism-based economic valuation model,” he said.

“We’re proud to continue our
work with The Nature Conservancy to enhance conservation planning and economic
modeling with the power of Azure and AI for Earth,” he added.

Other key findings of this
study that directly impact JetBlue and Caribbean tourism include:

  • The top 10 percent highest-value reef areas each
    generate more than $5.7 million and 7,000 visitors per square kilometer per
    year. These reefs are scattered in almost every country and territory in the
    region and have a large proportion of high-value reefs, each with an average
    spend value equal to over $3 million per square kilometer per year.
  • The countries most dependent on reef-adjacent
    tourism include many small island nations and JetBlue destinations, like
    Antigua & Barbuda, Bermuda and St. Maarten, where there may be relatively
    few alternative sources of income outside of reef-associated tourism.
  • Only 35 percent of Caribbean reefs are
    positioned where they do not draw revenue for the region’s tourism sector,
    indicating that there are little to no options to expand reef-associated
    activities to new areas. Most of the reefs not used for tourism are in remote
    locations.

With 65 percent of the
Caribbean’s reefs generating tourism dollars, the results reveal an opportunity
for tourism-associated businesses — including cruise lines, airlines, and
hotels to work together and continue to invest in protecting the region’s
environmental health.

As a follow-up to this study,
JetBlue is donating 50 flights to The Nature Conservancy for scientists to
travel to the region to further research and help conserve coral reefs, the
airline announced.

Author Details
This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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