News Release

REF NO.: 74

SUBJECT: Marine protected areas benefit human well-being, not just biodiversity

DATE: June 12, 2019

A review co-authored by a Memorial University researcher identifies the social effects of marine protected areas (MPAs) on human well-being.  

Mairi Meehan, a PhD student in the Department of Geography, Faculty of Science, joined an internationally renowned group of researchers for the study.

The research was led by University of Victoria marine conservation scientist Dr. Natalie Ban and joined by 12 co-authors from 11 different institutions in five countries, including Memorial University, University of British Colombia and Imperial College in London.  

Potential benefits for human well-being  

MPAs are well known for their ability to improve ecological conditions, such as species and habitat diversity and abundance, especially in areas that are overfished or being developed for human use.

MPAs have social goals and outcomes that that are less well known. This systematic literature review of 118 papers on the well-being outcomes of MPAs asked specifically how and where these outcomes are being investigated.  

The study identified positive human well-being outcomes related to enhanced community involvement, increases in fisheries catch per unit effort and increases in income. Negative outcomes were also identified, especially through increasing costs of fishing and increased conflict.

Often the literature revealed a combination of positive and negative human well-being outcomes occurring simultaneously in the same MPA.  

“Incorporating the results of well-being assessments into decision-making and management is important to ensure certain areas of society are not being disproportionately impacted by efforts to curb the effects of other sectors of society,” said Ms. Meehan.  

Need for action  

Recent findings from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report the rate of global biodiversity loss is intrinsically linked to impacts on people around the world, requiring urgent action to understand and address the drivers of change.   

While more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface is ocean, less than eight per cent of the ocean is protected. Countries are making progress in their commitments to achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity target of protecting 10 per cent of their marine area by 2020, and global discussions are underway to identify post-2020 targets. 

“Our study provides the most comprehensive support for the benefits of MPAs for peoples to date, but we still have to ensure that the subset of people who are affected negatively are adequately supported,” said Dr. Ban.  

Gaps remain  

The study also highlights the gaps that remain in our understanding of the effect of MPAs on people. Most evidence focused on economic and governance aspects of well-being, leaving social, health and cultural domains understudied.

Similarly, most studies documented the effects of MPAs on fisheries, providing relatively little insight about human well-being effects of MPAs on, for example, coastal communities or recreation. New evidence is emerging that MPAs need to be established near shore, in areas where threats to biodiversity occur.  

Understanding how human well-being may be affected by MPAs is important for both ethical reasons and for the potential implications for biological outcomes. There is evidence that MPAs that support positive human well-being are also more likely to achieve their conservation goals as they are more acceptable, desirable and supported by local communities.  

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Australian Research Council, in addition to other funding.  

The paper, Well-being Outcomes of Marine Protected Areas, was published June 11 in Nature Sustainability.

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