‘Our Harbour Our Asset’ – report by CPD fellow Caroline Hoisington on the economic value of Sydney Harbour

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In November the Sydney Institute of Marine Science released a report by CPD fellow Caroline Hoisington that begins the complex, yet important, process of assessing the economic value of the Sydney Harbour.

Our Harbour Our Asset aims to understand the economic contributions of the features and activities associated with the harbour, and to lay the groundwork for better ways of tracking these values over time.

It does so by setting out eight major value groupings, ranging from private business and industry to environmental quality, leisure activity and culture and science. Where possible, the report seeks to match indicators across these fields with monetary values, such as revenue from port and transport activities, the value of premium waterfront real estate, and the value of ecosystem services such as water filtration, sediment stabilisation and carbon sequestration. The ultimate aim of the ‘total economic value’ approach used in the report is measure each of these values in a way that can be added together to form a total – a very complex task. This report represents a starting point towards this goal, which will enable a clearer understanding of the values of Sydney Harbour and how these are changing over time.

As Marine Economy Fellow at CPD, Caroline authored and contributed to a number of reports on understanding and preserving the long-term value of Australia’s marine environments. These include: Stocking Up: Securing Out Marine Economy (2011), Preserving our Marine Wealth (2012), and Insuring Australia’s Marine Future (2013).



Key quotes from Our Harbour, Our Asset 

Much of the value of the Harbour lies in the way that the city has evolved to take advantage of the special features of this harbour. The character of the city, so interlinked with its dramatic harbour, enhances everything from businesses seeking to locate head offices in Sydney to its young people wanting to remain in the area to live and raise their own families. The nature of its buildings, parks and other features, even the preferences of its population, have been shaped by the Harbour in ways that add to the vulnerability of the city to any damage to the nature of its Harbour.”


“There are many complexities in trying to estimate economic values for Sydney Harbour, from the fact that data is seldom available in the necessary format to separating the city and the harbour as sources of value conceptually. Different reporting agencies also report in different formats and reporting of revenues may in fact overlap, raising the risk of double counting. Some important values are currently not quantified or quantifiable in dollar terms and some are apparently not quantified at all as of yet, e.g., the numbers of users of harbour side parks and pools.”


Ultimately what is of interest for policy-making is not total value but changes ‘at the margins’: meaning specifically – what can be gained? Or, what can be lost? In the case of Sydney Harbour, the question is often phrased as – what is at risk? The attempts in this paper towards estimating total values are presented as a start to be a basis for further estimation of possible changes: risks, rewards and their valuation. This estimation of total value is a starting point for the marginal analyses as it provides an indicator of the role and importance of the Sydney Harbour to many people and groups with varying interests.”


Media coverage 

On 16 November, Caroline discussed Our Harbour Our Asset on ABC Radio’s Mornings with Linda Mottram.

New scientific study puts a price on the harbour – $43 bn is just the beginning, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 November

How Sydney Harbour adds to the city’s tourism, real estate, transport and spirituality, The Huffington Post Australia, 17 November

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