Ecologyand Microeconomics as "Joint Products": The Bonaire Marine Park in the Caribbean


Many countries are strugglingwith the task of meeting ecological and economicgoals associated with the establishment and management of protected areas. Sometimesthe attempt to meet both goals leads to conflict. For land based parks the problems are well-known: establishment of protected areas often results in depriving nearby residents of important economicbenefits from use of the flora and fauna containedin the newly protected area.

Marine parks, especiallythose found in the Caribbean,'offeropportunitiesfor both resource conservation and generationof economic benefits. The establishment of marine parks helps protect fragile coral reefs and their associated fish and plant populations. Maxine-based tourism, includingboth SCUBA divers and yachting, are also important economic activities that do not have to be in conflict with conservation and protection of the marine ecosystem.

This Dissemination Note explores these issues in the case of the Bonaire Marine Park in the Netherlands Antilles. It examinesthe impact of tourismand recreational use on the marine ecosystem, and the economicimportance of tourism and recreation to the island economy. The study is a multi-disciplinary effort as the authors include both economists (Dixon and Scura) and an ecologist (van't Hof). The paper presents an analytical approach to understandingthe dynamicsof diver impact on the Park's reefs, and describes management alternativesthat can allow increased diver use of the Park's coral reefs without exceedinga damage-inducing "stress threshold" level.

Since divers both causes stress on the marine ecosystem,and generates the revenues that pay for improved marine conservationand management,at certain levels of use the ecological and economic benefitscan be considered as a type of "joint product" of recreational diver use. Beyond the 'stress threshold" level, however, increased use leads to direct tradeoffs between marine conservationand generation of economicreturns, e.g., increasing levels of direct use result in increased income (at least in the short run), but may damage the reefs and the fish population, thereby hurting the very thing that attracted visitors in the first place.

The authors estimate that the critical stress threshold level is between 4000-6000 dives per site per year, an intensity of use that is already being exceeded in certain areas. They then suggest measures that can help increase the effectivecarrying capacity of the Park (e.g. allowing more divers into the water while minimizing negativeimpacts) and increasing the generation of income, both to help pay for park management, and to keep a larger share of economic benefits within the Bonairean economy. It shouldbe possible, therefore, to meet both ecological and economic goals.

Like other papers in this series, this DisseminationNote has not been subject to either substantialintemal review or editing. Therefore the findings,interpretations, and conclusionsexpressed are entirely those of the authors and shouldnot be attributed to the World Bank, members of its Board of Executive Directors, or the countries they represent.

Data type
Research report
Research and monitoring
Geographic location