Socio-economic benefits and the sustainability of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as coral reef fisheries management options



Malleret-King, Delphine


Un ited Kingdom


MPAs have been established for decades for tourism and environmental conservation. More recently, their benefits to the ecosystem they protect in terms of species diversity, biomass and habitat protection have led scientists to think that MPAs in the form of No take zones could be a good option to achieve a sustainable management of fisheries resources in coral reef areas where maladapted ‘classical’ fisheries management tools have not succeeded.

NTZs (No Take Zones) are a kind of MPAs within which no extractive activities are allowed and which aim is to promote a sustainable use of fisheries resources. Through the studies of existing MPAs, it is assumed that NTZs could benefit the surrounding fisheries through two main channels: the migration of mature fish outside the protected area and through the improved recruitment. Another benefit of MPAs for the surrounding stakeholders is the alternative employment created by MPA-related tourism.

However, and due to the lack of historical data, the benefits of MPAs on the yields of the surrounding fisheries is very difficult to prove. Moreover, it has been realised that to be sustainable and be better enforced, stakeholders need to be more involved in their management and need to accept them. But up to now, studies have concentrated on the ecological benefits of these MPA. Very few studies have concentrated on the benefits from the point of view of the surrounding stakeholders.

A study was carried out in Southern Kenya using a range of locally specific household food security indicators in order to detect the socio-economic impacts of a long established MPA, in terms of fisheries or other economic activities.

The food security indicators showed that the benefits of the presence of the MPA were different according to the distance of the communities’ fishing zones from the protected reefs. It was found by earlier studies that the heterogeneity of MPAs could prevent fish migration. Similarly, this heterogeneity also affects the way in which stakeholders benefit from resource protection. Access to the proximity of the productive protected area (e.g. coral heads) was found to be a limiting factor for the communities to perceive the benefits of an MPA. Thus, it cannot be assumed that communities affected by the establishment of an MPA or an NTZ through the decreased fishing grounds will benefit from it.

Tourism appeared as an important factor in terms of the socio-economic situation of the communities in the study area. It was thus investigated further. Results showed that heterogeneity was also a limiting factor in terms of tourism. Thus, although the costs of opportunity may be shared by a wide range of communities, MPA-related tourism was not. Distance was a major limiting factor. Furthermore, it was found that tourism was unpredictable and was not a corollary to the presence of an MPA, this would be even less so in the case of an NTZ (i.e. designed for sustainable exploitation of the resources rather than for tourism attraction). The unreliability of tourism, its environmental and cultural costs and sustainability were also factors to take into account.

The research showed that in order for surrounding stakeholders to benefit from the establishment of an MPA or subsequent NTZs, conscious efforts have to be made to involve them in the process and in the benefit-sharing. The only way NTZs can be a sustainable tool for coral reef fisheries management is if stakeholders perceive their benefits and accept them.