GAINESVILLE — As the University of Florida campus and Gator Nation prepare to celebrate homecoming and the 100th anniversary of the student-led Gator Growl pep rally, we here in the Food and Resource Economics Department thought reflecting upon the economic importance of the University in Gainesville and throughout the entire state was appropriate.
Back in 2018, the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program (EIAP), now led by Dr. Christa Court, FRE assistant professor, conducted a study on the economic contributions of the university. The research team considered many ways the university contributes to Florida’s economy, including student spending, construction, athletic event attendance, visitor spending, and healthcare services provided. At the time, the total industry output or revenue contributions to the state, including multiplier effects, were estimated at $16.91 billion.
But our 50,000+ faculty, staff, and students are not the only type of gator contributing to Florida’s economy. We would be remiss not to mention the contributions of the American alligator, the official state reptile, which is forever linked to the State of Florida.
With over one million wild alligators found throughout the Sunshine State, Florida is home to almost 20% of all American alligators nationwide. Once endangered, these cold-blooded creatures have recovered remarkably thanks to conservation efforts. Understanding their economic value helps justify the conservation measures in place to protect them, allowing us to strike a balance between human activities and the protection of these iconic reptiles and their environments.
But how can we quantify the economic value of these majestic reptiles?
One way is by looking at the sales of products harvested, such as alligator leather and meat, which are highly sought after in certain industries. In terms of the sales value of products derived from alligators, Florida ranks second in the United States, just behind Louisiana. According to provisional data published by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, just under $15 million in hides and meat were produced in 2021, the most recent year for which data are available.
Alligator-related tourism and recreational activities, such as alligator watching, hunting, and eco-tourism, also generate revenue for local economies. This spending associated with alligators supports businesses, creates jobs, and boosts the overall economy, particularly in regions where alligators are found in large numbers.
The economic value of alligators, in the broadest sense, would also include quantification of the ecosystem services that they provide. As apex predators, these reptiles help control the populations of various prey species, which can have cascading effects on the entire ecosystem. By digging holes and leaving trails through marshes and wetlands, they create habitats for other animals and keep waterways free of excess vegetation. Finally, many people just like knowing that a particular species, like alligators, exists, even if they will never see one or purchase a product derived from one. This type of value is called existence value and also plays a role in the continued success of the American alligator.
Understanding the economic value of alligators can highlight the importance of sustainable harvesting practices and regulations to ensure the long-term livelihood of the species despite other threats such as habitat loss. FRE is proud to continue to be involved in documenting the economic importance of gators living in and out of the water!