The economics of expanding the Marine Protected Areas of the Cayman Islands

Quantification of the benefits humans obtain from Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) supports decision-makers by elucidating the link between the functioning of MPAs and human welfare. By conducting a residential household survey among residents in the Cayman Islands, this study assesses people’s willingness to pay for the marine environment from a perspective of cultural and recreational values. In this way the study offers a partial estimation of the total economic value of the marine environment of the Cayman Islands. Two valuation methods are applied: the contingent valuation and the choice modelling method.

Data from 384 household surveys shows that 63% of the respondents are willing to pay for additional management of the marine environment. The average amount that respondents are willing to pay per month for an improvement in a marine protection area ranges between is 12.69 CI$ and 16.55 CI$. The Cayman Islands has approximately 24,165 households, resulting in a range of the total yearly cultural and recreational value of the marine environment of between 3.7 million – 4.8 million CI$ for its residents.

The choice experiment shows that respondents especially value coral reefs and water quality as marine elements. Moreover, households who participate in fishing on average express a higher value for all attributes of marine environment covered in the experiment. The study also shows that residents from Cayman Brac value fish catch significantly more than the other sister islands and that no-take zones are less valued by older residents and people born on the Cayman Islands.

The conclusions from our study concerning public support for expansion of the MPA diverge the findings of an earlier study. While Richardson et al. (2013) concludes that levels of support range from 14% to 47% between the sister islands, our study measured much higher levels of public support ranging between 58% to 85%. Whilst Richardson et al. (2013) used public consultation, geared towards assessing people’s opinions on the intended expansion, the statement within this study was part of a larger survey and a simplification of the proposed changes presented during the public consultation. However, besides the simplification, within this study people might have been primed by previous questions in the survey, which may have led to respondents realizing what trade-offs need to be made in marine conservation.

Finally, this research reveals the presence of an anchoring/ordering effect in the valuation process. Showing respondents the choice experiment first is associated with a higher fraction of the respondents being willing to pay in the contingent valuation, and to respondents being willing to pay more in the contingent valuation, compared to respondents that were shown the contingent valuation question first. 

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