Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Cost of Saving Species from Extinction

By Stephen Luntz

An international team has estimated the cost of shifting every endangered species to a lower status, and come up with two figures.

They conclude it would cost $74.8 billion per year to protect and manage all land sites of global conservation significance. However, just $3.9 billion is required to conduct the interventions that would move critically endangered species to endangered status, while making endangered species merely threatened.

Although the figures sound daunting, the lead author of the Science paper who set out the estimates, Mr Donal McCarthy, notes: “The total is just 1–4% of the value of ecosystem services being lost annually, which equates to $2.1 trillion to $6.5 trillion in losses per year”. For example, ecosystems that are biologically diverse are more robust and more likely to provide services such as clean water.

The combined expenditure is also less than $1 per month for every person on Earth.

McCarthy is an environmental economist at BirdLife International, and the team used birds as a test case, estimating the cost of protecting endangered bird species and then extrapolating to nature at large.

“This study is groundbreaking because the cost of retaining the world’s animal and plant species has never been estimated before,” says co-author Prof Stephen Garnett of Charles Darwin University’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods.

Garnett says the best way to spend money varies by species, including “halting habitat loss, altering legislation, captive breeding, and eliminating introduced species from islands”. In some cases actions as cheap as the provision of nest boxes are all that is required.

Most of the larger figure revolve around habitat protection, which often comes with the added bonus of reducing carbon emissions.

Climate change may undermine even the best efforts to save a species, but Garnett argues: “There is not going to be a lot to save from climate change if we don’t take action now. Many of these actions will increase resilience to cope with climate change.”

Garnett adds that the costs of saving species are usually much lower in the developing world, which is also where most of these species are.