Well-being outcomes of marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have received much research attention to understand their ecological effectiveness, yet there is still debate around their impacts – positive or negative – on human well-being. On the one hand, ocean conservation advocates profess that MPAs can solve many woes in the oceans by not only protecting biodiversity, but also providing spillover to benefit fisheries outside of MPAs. On the other hand, some fishers proclaim that MPAs will be the end of their livelihoods.
Well-being outcomes of marine protected areas

We wanted to illuminate the current evidence about benefits and costs of MPAs on human well-being. To do so, we reviewed all academic peer-reviewed papers that assessed some aspect of human well-being and MPAs. We found that more positive (51%) than negative (31%) outcomes were reported, with the rest showing no change in well-being outcomes. The most positive well-being outcomes of MPAs related to community involvement (76% positive), fisheries catch per unit effort (73%), and income (65%). The most negative outcomes manifested through increasing costs of activities (100%, though only 13 instances, all related to increased cost of fishing), and conflict (79%).

Many studies showed both negative and positive human well-being outcomes for the same MPA. For instance, an MPA might provide increased income for one fishery that is allowed to continue inside the area or can fish in a buffer zone, but result in increased cost of fishing for a displaced fishery. Local context thus remains important, and when MPAs are implemented, efforts should be made to support those who will be negatively affected.

Most studies focused on fisheries, providing relatively little insight about the human well-being effects of MPAs on, for instance, coastal communities, recreation, or tourism. There was also too little disaggregation of effects to gain detailed insights into whether different aspects of society are advantaged or disadvantages by MPAs. For instance, are women affected differently from men? Are some economic or ethnic groups affected differently from others? MPAs that were single zones, no-take, old, and had high enforcement, indicated more positive well-being outcomes than other categories. Many of these characteristics are similar to MPAs that see positive ecological effects. It is promising that there are characteristics of MPAs that are likely to lead to both positive social and ecological outcomes.

Photo: Most of the co-author team on Pender Island, Canada. From left to right: Charlotte Whitney, Georgina Gurney, Michael Cox, Mairi Miller, Tanya Tran, Stephen Ban, Morena Mills, Sara Breslow, Nathan Bennett, Caroline Butler, Nadine Marshall. In front: Natalie Ban. Not pictured: Stefan Gelcich.

Undertaking this analysis was a highly collaborative and enjoyable effort. We gathered on Pender Island (British Columbia, Canada) for four days to discuss the preliminary results, shape ideas for analysis, and enjoy each others’ company. Bringing together multiple perspectives, including people with diverse backgrounds, always makes for improved academic outputs.

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