A novel framework to evaluate the financial sustainability of marine protected areas

ABSTRACT  Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are globally underfunded. We present a five-step framework that can help practitioners prioritize actions that may improve financial sustainability, which was applied to six MPAs in Colombia, Bonaire, and Belize. Limited funds were found to directly undermine effectiveness towards conservation goals for five sites, with these impacts particularly significant for four. Annual budgets required increases from 6 % to 141 % to meet financial needs. Two sites had significant underlying weaknesses in their financial strategies that could lead to direct impacts if not addressed, with an additional three sites having more minor, but still observable, weaknesses in this manner. Staff salaries were the largest expense for all MPAs examined and also most frequently in need of additional funds. Opportunities to potentially eliminate these funding gaps were identified for all six MPAs through reallocating existing resources (n =2), improving in-place mechanisms (n = 6), or implementing one or more alternative mechanisms (n =6). Among several findings, some MPAs had the potential to increase tourism-based income by several million dollars per year, which would well exceed local financial requirements and could have substantial financial benefits on a network-wide scale. Some MPAs, including those with lower budgets, effectively leveraged partnerships and inter-institutional coordination to expand management capacity. Among alternative mechanisms that could be implemented, opportunities to leverage private-sector investments were especially common. Other MPAs around the world could likewise improve financial sustainability through analysis, evaluation, and execution of the full suite of options described herein.   

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