A new EU report has highlighted the economic benefits European Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can provide.
MPAs have already been shown to have wide beneficial impacts from environmental, ecological and socio-economic perspectives. There has in some areas, however, remained a question mark looming over economic benefits, with the suggestion that, rather than give it a boost, MPAs can add restrictions and costs to the economy.
To investigate this in more detail, PML teamed up with ICF and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) and comprehensively assessed the links between MPAs and the different sectors of the blue economy. In doing so, they have answered the question: Yes, there are economic benefits stemming from MPAs, and while the main beneficiaries tend to be from the fisheries and tourism, they are not the only sectors to gain.
For fisheries, it is the small-scale that appear to benefit more; primarily through enhancements to stocks either within or outside well-managed MPAs, which can be a boon for fishers. Tourism and recreational activities can be winners too – an overall improvement in biodiversity was found to lead to an increase in visitors to MPAs and opportunities for small businesses, which are often enhanced through MPA branding exercises. Other sectors were also found to benefit, as MPAs provide opportunities for new and expanded activities, such as the development of new technologies. Although benefits to other blue economy sectors may be isolated cases, the report shows that benefits to the wider blue economy are not necessarily insignificant.
The report does come with caveats. MPAs are a conservation tool, after all, and economic exploitation of them should not jeopardise their primary goals. And with the relatively small amount of cost-benefit analyses found as part of the assessment, real impacts to the wider economy are difficult to demonstrate, though the report does help to pinpoint the areas where future analyses should be targeted.
Dr Caroline Hattam, environmental economist in PML’s Sea and Society group, said: While effective MPAs are a really important marine management and conservation tool we found that MPAs don’t have to be viewed as a cost to the different sectors operating in the marine environment. These sectors need to engage with MPA management, however, to ensure that their interests are considered and that any opportunities can be capitalised upon.
An abridged version of the report can be read here