Social and Economic Impacts of Marine Protected Areas: A Study and Analysis of Selected Cases in the Caribbean

The four marine protected area (MPA) cases treated in this study have a number of features in common They are relatively small in size, they are entirely or mostly marine, they are multiple-use areas, they were established for the protection and management of important marine ecosystems, and they provide a range of recreational opportunities. The Wreck of the Rbone Marine Park in the British Virgin Islands forms somewhat of an exception in that the wreck of the Royal Mail Steamer Rhone is the main feature of the park.
The recreational opportunities in these MPAs attract a large number of - mostly overseas - visitors, who engage in a variety of activities (the most important of which is SCUBA diving) while visiting the areas and most of whom stay for only a few days. About half of these visitors were unaware of the existence of the MPAs prior to their arrival and consequently, the existence of the areas was not very important in their decision to visit the destination. Yet the existence of the MPAs was important or very important to most visitors in their decision to engage in recreational activities in the areas.
Although visitor spending varies widely among the four MPAs studied, the visitation associated with the existence of the MPAs has an undisputed economic impact. The case studies demonstrate that there is a consumer surplus: 45-50% of the visitors would spend l0-20% more on the costs related to their visiting the areas before they would decide to visit a less expensive destination. This willingness to spend more appears to be related to a large extent to features connected with the protected status of the area (quality of the environment and marine life). Also, a considerable portion of the visitors might not return if the quality of the environment were to degrade. A considerable percentage of visitors would furthermore pay higher fees than the present fees, In order to optimize revenue for protected area management and economic impact in general, MPAs and their special features need to be better marketed.
Although the MPAs that are the subject of the case studies can generally be considered successful, there is much room for improvement. In some cases the economic benefits are not evenly distributed among the different sectors in the community, while certain user groups feel disadvantaged by the restrictions imposed on them. Conflicts between different user groups exist in some cases, while crowding and overuse are also seen as existing or imminent problems.
In all cases there appears to be a need to improve or expand education programmes to increase awareness and support among the local population. There is also a need to carry out more biological, economic and social research of marine protected areas, in addition to resource monitoring and statistical information collecting. The results thereof will enable protected area management agencies to demonstrate the value of these MPAs and to increase political and community support.

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