Is it worth investing in coral reefs? Results from an assessment of MPA economic benefits in Fiji and Vanuatu

A study, carried out by IUCN in 10 villages in Vanuatu and Fiji, evaluated the economic benefits of community-based Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Its results show that MPAs make sense not only for their conservation benefits, but they yield tangible economic benefits.


Fishing net in mangrove areas. Galoa village, Fiji.

Community-based MPAs are among the primary fisheries and coastal management tools utilised in many Pacific countries, where the intervention of government agencies is minimal and communities play an integral role in management activities. Governments, multilateral agencies and NGOs (estimated at >500 in the Pacific in 2007) have supported community-based MPAs during the past 15 years. This support however must now be improved, with more stable funding and regulations adapted to this kind of management.

In this study, the valuation is based on observed and historic values (ex-post) collected during 2011-2012 and on discounted projections in 25 years. The principal effects of the MPAs on the selected Ecosystem Services (ES) of fisheries, tourism, coastal protection against floods and bequest value were assessed. Economic benefits and costs of the MPAs were valued for all local stakeholders (within the spatial perimeter of the MPAs and their affected areas) as well as for national and international stakeholders. In addition, an estimation of the MPA effects on the stock and flow of ES values was determined.

The study was carried out in 5 MPAs in Vanuatu and 5 MPAs in Fiji. While there are differences between the different sites, they all fulfil the following criteria: (i) proximity of economic activities (mainly fishing, tourism and human settlements) (ii) the MPA has been actively managed and adequately enforced by communities for at least five years and, (iii) the reserve covers at least 10% of the fishing ground area.

Results showed that the MPAs generated benefits primarily via improving the aesthetics of nature for tourism purposes, as well as maintaining the services of coastal protection and fisheries productivity. The primary beneficiaries were the tourism businesses followed by village households.

The overall economic value of ES in the study sites was calculated as between $US 200,000 and $US1.9 million per year and per village. Cultural services with tourism revenues from divers, snorkelers, resorts and day tours comprised a large proportion of the total (>60%) with almost 12 000 reef visitors per year in Vanuatu and 42 000 in the Fijian Coral Coast. In the study zones, the service of protection against coastal floods provided benefits for an important number of houses (>500 in some sites) and tourism buildings (>80 000 in some sites). The MPA communities invested between 1,500 and 10,000 $US per year and square kilometre of protected area. These investments, however, resulted in benefits to the tune of 110,000 to 530,000 US$ per year and square kilometre of protected area – thus a return on investment by a factor of 50 to 100 as a result of the MPAs. Again, tourism business owners were the main beneficiaries, followed by village households. In each case studied, the economic impact of the MPAs was evident beyond the MPA’s and the village’s boundaries.

In Fiji's Koralevu-I-Wai, the spill over and larval dispersal impacts represented a fairly high proportion (almost 40%) of the MPA’s benefits. This MPA as well yields important tourism benefits: For almost 50% of the visitors to the Coral Coast, the snorkel/dive trips were a regular complementary activity during their stay, or were the principal reason to come to the resort.

The situation in the Navakavu villages of Fiji is different from the others in that there was very little tourism activity, in fact, only one dive shop. Due to the configuration of the MPAs here and their proximity to urban centres, the spill over and larval dispersal impacts from the sites represented a very important portion of the MPA benefits (> 70% of the total). The MPAs had impacts primarily on coastal protection against floods (>70% of the total) and reflected the importance of coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems for human protection in urban centres. The urban centres were the main beneficiaries (almost 75%) of the 4 MPAs.

In Vanuatu, the economic impact of the MPAs was estimated at US$ 250,000 per year per square kilometre of MPA, which is equivalent to an average economic value of benefits of US$ 77,000 per year per MPA, and an aggregate impact of the 5 MPAs of $US 386,000. The benefits generated in the spillover and larval dispersal areas represented an important part of the whole MPA benefits (>35% of the total). Similar to Koralevu-I-Wai in Fiji, the MPA’s greatest impact was on Tourism (almost 60% of the total). This figure reflects the role of the MPA mainly as a tool to enhance the experience of the 12 000 reef visitors during their snorkelling/diving activities.

The great majority of the visitors in the zone either took part in marine activities as one of their by-side activities during their stay (6 tourists in 10) or as their main reason to travel (1 tourist in 10). The MPAs have been used as a marketing tool by some businesses (approximately 20% of the visitors surveyed said they would not have come if the MPA was not present). The private businesses and non-village real estate were the main beneficiaries (65%) of the MPA impacts.

All the studied MPAs have produced positive Cost Benefit (C-B)ratios demonstrating that investments in marine reserves, in addition to avoiding the risk of overfishing and contributing to the conservation of coral reefs, are also an effective means of contributing to local economic development. The ecological effects on fish populations and habitats in the MPA produced concrete and tangible benefits both for the villages with MPAs and the surrounding villages. The level of C-B ratios reflects a significant leverage of investments in MPAs for important impacts on tourism benefits and costal protection values.

The results of the study thus provide a strong economic argument for the establishment of community-based marine protected areas in the Pacific.

To obtain a copy of the full report, please contact Nicolas Pascal.

Work area: 
Climate Change
Protected Areas
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
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