Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Earth Systems Science

First Advisor's Name

Mahadev Bhat

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Ligia Collado-Vides

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Joel Heinen

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Pallab Mozumder

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


staghorn coral, bioeconomic model, stated preference, cost-benefit, ecosystem services, willingness-to-pay, ecosystem restoration, risk preferences, marine reserve

Date of Defense



Once a dominant structure building coral on shallow water reefs throughout the Caribbean and western Atlantic, staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) has experienced precipitous regional declines in abundance since the 1970s, the result of a multitude of interlinked natural and human-induced stressors. To mitigate declining trends and support the recovery of wild staghorn populations, a restocking program has been initiated to transplant tens of thousands of nursery-reared staghorn colonies annually onto reefs off SE Florida and throughout the Caribbean. The objective of the present study is to examine the business case for a large-scale staghorn coral restocking program in the Florida Keys considering (1) one of the most important non-market functions of staghorn coral in the Florida Keys, support of commercial reef fish fisheries, and (2) the public’s willingness-to-pay (WTP) to restock staghorn coral populations. We develop a multi-stock fisheries bioeconomic model that incorporates the empirical relationship between staghorn coral abundance and commercially important reef fish carrying capacity on the FRT to quantify changes in optimal equilibrium reef fish stocks, harvest, and fishery profit from restocking staghorn coral populations under alternative fishery management regimes. Using stated preference data elicited through a household survey of residents of the SE US, we estimate the public’s willingness-to-pay (WTP) for enhanced staghorn abundance and ecosystem health on the Florida Reef Tract. We integrate psychometric measures characterizing the public’s attitudes toward risk into an economic discrete choice model to examine the impact of individual risk characteristics on household WTP. Results of the survey confirm the public assigns substantial value to the recovery of staghorn coral populations and improved coastal ecosystem health on the Florida Reef Tract. Respondent WTP was strongly dependent on individual perceptions of the anthropogenic risks facing staghorn corals and local coral reef ecosystems. Bioeconomic model results suggest staghorn restocking could play an important role in the recovery of locally exploited reef fish stocks, although the incremental economic contribution to the fishery is substantially less than estimated annual WTP values. Benefit cost ratios range from .66 to 36.84 depending on the population of beneficiaries considered.





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