User fees as sustainable financing mechanisms for marine protected areas: An application to the Bonaire National Marine Park

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have proliferated globally in the past three decades. However, inadequate funding often prevents these management regimes from fulfilling their missions. Managers have become increasingly aware that successful protection of marine ecosystems is dependent not only upon an understanding of their biological and physical processes, but also their associated social and economic aspects. Unfortunately, economic values associated with MPAs and the natural resources they protect are rarely considered in decision-making and policy development. This study addresses this information gap by examining scuba divers’ willingness to pay for access to quality recreational sites in the Bonaire National Marine Park, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles. The findings indicate that the US$10 annual diver user fee in effect at the time of the study could be increased substantially without a significant adverse effect on island tourism. Depending on question format, mean willingness to pay for annual access ranged from US$61 to US$134 (2002$). All model specifications support the conclusion that doubling the US$10 user fee would have virtually no impact on visitation rates. The increased revenue generated from this sustainable financing mechanism is more than sufficient to fund both current and enhanced marine park operations. 

Keywords: Marine protected area (MPA), Scuba diving, User fee, Natural resource valuation


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