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What's The Value Of Seabird Poop?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

How do you put a dollar value on poop?

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

(Laughter) It's a very interesting question, Ari. As it turns out, though, the answer could help save seabirds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEABIRDS SQUAWKING)

SHAPIRO: Around the world, seabirds are under threat. There is climate change, overfishing, plastic pollution, invasive cats and rats that eat bird eggs.

VANEK SMITH: Now, to raise awareness, researchers have put a dollar value on the birds' poop, also known as guano.

DANIEL PLAZAS-JIMENEZ: They call the guano the white gold.

SHAPIRO: White gold. Daniel Plazas-Jimenez is one of the authors on the new report in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution. He says South America already knows the value of guano as a fertilizer. It's been an economic engine for countries like Peru since the 1800s.

VANEK SMITH: But his team put a price on all the poop that humans don't harvest, which also has value. For example, it fertilizes coral reefs, which helps fish populations, which in turn is really good for fishermen.

SHAPIRO: Overall, the scientists estimate the white gold excreted by penguins, pelicans and other seabirds is worth nearly half a billion dollars a year.

REBECCA SHAW: What the city is trying to say is when these wondrous birds that fiercely navigate the globe come to rest on a rock in the ocean and poop, people can benefit.

VANEK SMITH: Rebecca Shaw is chief scientist of the Worldwide Fund for Nature. She says some people value nature simply because they love it.

SHAPIRO: But others are more convinced by an economic argument. And if bird poop is a treasure, then maybe we should cherish the birds it comes from, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF VETIVER SONG, "CURRENT CARRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.