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Marine protected areas safeguard more than ecology – Study

By Femi Akinola

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been used as conservation measures for decades, but critics continue to argue that evidence of their economic benefits is weak, particularly regarding fisheries.

Given the challenges in establishing MPAs, including objections from fisheries and the frequently small size and sub-optimal location of protected areas, one would expect their economic benefits to be heard and detected.

A new study reviews 81 publications about MPAs in 37 countries. It shows that their establishment has resulted in benefits to commercial fisheries in 25 countries and to tourism in 24.

These benefits cover a diversity of ecosystems, including coral reefs, kelp forests, mangroves, rocky reefs, salt marshes, mudflats, and sandy seabed habitats.

According to the new study, 46 examples of economic benefits to fisheries adjacent to marine protected areas were identified.

These include increased fish stocks and catch volumes, higher reproduction, and larval ‘spillover’ to fisheries outside the MPA.

Other studies also reported larger fish and lobsters close to existing MPAs.

Despite the claim in the research literature of fishery displacement due to the establishment of an MPA, it seems the benefits outweigh any temporary disruption of fishing activities.

According to Mark John Costello, Nord University, he has yet to find any evidence of net costs of an MP to fisheries anywhere, anytime.

He said most economic models estimating the costs marine protected areas impose on fisheries don’t account for the present costs of fishery management (or absence of management).

He said that when an entire fishery is temporarily closed by fishery management, the models estimate the potential benefit from stock recovery, noting that they don’t do that when a fraction of fishery is closed for the long term in an MPA.

He said: ” Overall, my research shows that MPAs which ban all fishing have lower management costs and greater ecological and fishery benefits than more complex fishery regulations within a protectedarea. Thus, the economic models of the effects of MPAs need radical revision.”

According to Costello, ”it may seem counterintuitive that a full restriction of fishing in an area will result in more fish elsewhere, this happens because MPAs act like a reservoir to replenish adjacent fisheries.”

MPAs represent a simple, viable, low-tech, and cost-effective strategy that can be used for small and large areas. As such, they have proven highly successful in safeguarding marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

More pertinently, they reverse fish declines, secure food and ecosystem services, and enable the sustainable exploitation of marine resources, says Costello.

He equally noted that MPAs shift the management of fisheries from being purely a commercial commodity to including the wider socio-economic benefits they provide to coastal communities. These include food security, cultural activities, and sustainable livelihoods.

In addition, he said MPAs can generate billions from ecotourism, saying, ”MPAs that are accessible to the public and which harbour biologically diverse habitats can generate millions to billions of dollars in tourism revenue per year.

This revenue is generated not only from entrance fees and MPA-associated businesses that may develop but also from providing jobs and, therefore, improving the local economy and living standards while contributing significantly to the national GDP.



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