Socio-economic benefits of EU Marine Protected Areas

A study by IEEP, funded by DG Environment of the European Commission, collects, synthesises and discusses the available evidence on the socio-economic benefits provided by the protection of European coastal areas and seascapes. The report concludes that, as the European experience of managing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is increasing, so is the amount of evidence showing how MPAs can contribute to the development of a sustainable blue-green economy in Europe – one where the long-term sustainability of marine ecosystems, as well as the associated livelihood opportunities and wellbeing of different stakeholders, are ensured.

The report shows, for instance, how MPAs can contribute to climate change mitigation by protecting and restoring Posidonia oceanica meadows, which are important carbon sinks. It describes how MPAs offer increased opportunities for sustainable coastal and marine tourism and can improve coastal security by maintaining ecosystems which mitigate the impacts of tidal surges, storms and floods. The report also discusses how MPAs can provide direct and indirect protection of commercially targeted fish stocks, with tighter restrictions and control of destructive fishing methods generally resulting in more significant effects on stock recovery and thereby on the sustainability of the respective fisheries.

Importantly, this new IEEP report stresses that any benefits provided by MPAs ultimately depend on the protection measures installed at individual sites, whether sites are being well managed and the extent to which existing rules are properly enforced. Different categories of experts need to collaborate with policy makers and local communities in order to ensure an ecosystem-based approach to designation and management of EU MPAs.

Looking ahead, the report concludes that our understanding of the socio-economic benefits of EU MPAs is still limited. It is important to improve this evidence base as coastal and marine planning, management and exploitation continues to increase in the EU, since it may illustrate cases where the overall benefits of MPA designation outweigh the potential losses imposed on certain stakeholders or developments.

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