Collectively seabird droppings are worth £840 million per year

Mining guano

A team of scientists at Universidade Federald de Goiás have worked out, through a complex calculation, that the value of see bird droppings or guano is worth £840 million a year in terms of fertilising crops and delivering nutrients to coral reefs and boosting fish numbers. It’s a way of valuing seabirds but of course they are worth far more than the value of their poop which contains phosphorus and nitrogen which helps to nourish coral reefs. Earlier research indicated that 10 percent of coral reef fish stocks depend on see bird droppings. The droppings enhance the growth of sponges and algae which supports fish which grazes on them.

Mining guano

Mining guano. Image in the public domain.

The scientists hope that valuing the guano of seabirds they may encourage their conservation. Gareth Cunningham a marine expert at the RSPB said that the report did not reflect the true value of seabirds. Although he agreed that it supports the phrase “Where there is muck there is brass”, he argued that you can’t convert the lives of seabirds to purely monetary terms. In the UK seabirds have a cultural value.

The population of seabirds is in decline globally and colonies are, according to Mr Cunningham, becoming unviable. The chairman of the UK government’s natural capital committee, Dieter Helm, said that such studies may lead to the belief that “nature isn’t really worth very much”. The value of 840 million comes nowhere near the true value to humans of all the seabirds.

In the 19th century there was a lucrative trade in mining guano from massive piles of it on islands in the Pacific. Guano is still mined in Peru and Chile. It is used as an organic fertiliser but it is far more expensive than the synthetic stuff which means that it is less attractive to commercial enterprises. This is a shame because guano is natural and synthetic stuff means chemicals and chemicals tend to pollute the environment despite the benefit to crops et cetera.

The UK is too wet to allow guano formation. The Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth is not a pile of guano. The white that you see on the rock is caused by the sheer number of white birds on it.