Pay & Play

The ocean has been regarded as a global commons whose resources are inexhaustible and therefore free for the taking.

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Total government spending worldwide on protected areas has been estimated to be USD3.2 billion per year, but there are no statistics available that show how much of these USD 3.2 billion were specifically allocated to marine and coastal protected areas.

This huge under funding of the park management around the world has created a map wadded with paper parks. Countries have committed themselves to establishing networks of Marine Protected Areas by 2012 under the Convention on Biological Diversity, but only 0.5 percent of the oceans currently protected is a poor start towards that very essential goal, said Christian Neumann, Conservation Officer for WWF International Centre for Marine Conservation.

Paper parks

If you look at maps, there are a lot of protected areas on the planet. Many more on land than at sea. However, only a very small percentage of these declared protected areas exist in actual fact. Most are paper parks in which no management occurs. The motivation to establish protected areas is often based on the perception that such areas enhance a country’s competitiveness in the tourism sector. The cost of protecting the designated areas are often insurmountable, especially for poorer countries.

I wrote about such an example in X-RAY MAG issue 22, where the local environment protection agency of São Paulo state (Secretario Meio Ambiental SP), Brazil, only received funds in 2005 to buy a boat to patrol the state’s marine parks. The state’s marine parks where left virtually unprotected up to then, after the park was created in 1993.

There is a difference between rich and poor countries when it comes to financing of protected areas. Research does show that government resources are the dominant source of funding for MPAs in developed countries, whereas in developing countries, foreign assistance and park entry fees provide a relatively larger part of their revenues.

You can’t really blame poorer countries that they choose to maybe spend their revenues on infrastructure or in aiding a struggling population, rather than forking out money on park rangers and patrol boats.

As the whole world is more and more linked together, especially concerning natural resources and the effects of global warming; the burden of environmental management must be shared by us all. Given the limited ability of most governments in the developing world to meet the costs of management, alternative sources of revenue must be explored.

Natural resource

On the other hand, governments can in many cases be persuaded to increase their annual budget allocations for conservation and sustainable management of marine ecosystems if they can be shown that marine resources generate substantial economic benefits in the short, medium, or longterm.

Just a few decades ago, a natural resource was something you could dig out of the ground or pump up from the bottom of the ocean. In the last few years, many developing countries have seen that eco-tourism also taps into one kind of natural resource—clean and unspoiled oceans.

Existing revenues from fisheries and tourism can dramatically decline if coastal wetlands and coral reef ecosystems are not adequately protected. For a MPA, to succeed in reaching its goals regarding improved water quality, reduction in fishing pressure, and protection of habitat, suitable management methods must be adopted and enforced.

Sadly, this is not always the case; a report by the World Bank admits that only 30 percent of Caribbean and 10 percent of East Asian MPAs have achieved their management goals. A further report reviewing the success of marine parks found that only 9 percent achieved their management objectives. This means that of the world’s 361 million km2 of ocean, less than 1 percent is covered by MPAs, with 71 percent appearing to have no management scheme at all.

Economic indicators, such as a marine resource’s contribution to a country’s fiscal revenues or to foreign exchange earnings, can therefore be a great help in making a compelling case for marine conservation. Tourism is the world’s largest industry employing 195 million people and contributing over 10 percent of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Marine-based tourism cruises, scuba diving, yachting, whale watching, and sun-sand-sea tourism to destination beach resorts generates billions of tourist dollars. Often can combined efforts by governments and non-governmental organizations be a good match. The politicians have to put in place legislation and longterm policies. While the management of the parks can be handled by non-governmental agencies. The latter often also provide necessary education tools, which is essential to get the local communities to support the efforts.

My ocean

MPAs have the dual benefits of protecting both the coral reefs and fish populations that make the area more attractive for the user. There is a variety of financing mechanisms that include government subvention, international assistance, personal donations, commercial and bi-lateral debt swaps, trust funds and entrance fees.

The funds necessary to maintain and manage a park can be costly, as even a small park with few staff can have an annual budget exceeding US$100,000. The most frequent way divers contribute to marine park management is by paying entry fees. This kind of revenue system has been set up in amongst other places, Bonaire, Egyptian Red Sea, Indonesia and Tanzania.

Scuba divers are getting used to this kind of “pay and play”, or user oriented, fees when diving in marine parks. Pay per use has been a great success for financing protected areas, and additionally, has had a very positive effect on other aspects of life in several countries. It’s becoming as natural as paying to see a movie at the cinema. ■


Press releases from Divers Alert Network (DAN)