Marine protection dividend | OCCASIONAL PAPER | November 2013

Caroline Hoisington courtesy MECDon’t quit before the full benefits flow

CPD’s latest ‘marine economy’ report by former World Bank economist Caroline Hoisington, finds that marine parks deliver more over time


As the NSW government considers marine management reforms, this report finds that marine parks already provide significant economic benefits, but it is too early to judge their environmental effectiveness.

This short paper presents compelling evidence that:

  • NSW marine parks are already delivering clear and demonstrable economic benefits for local communities and businesses.
  • The protected areas must be allowed to exist for a minimum of 15 years before they can be judged as to their effectiveness.
  • Community support for marine parks and the sanctuary zones within them, is very high around the more established reserves.

NSW marine parks are all relatively young. The oldest NSW marine parks are barely 11 years old and the youngest only six.  In ecological terms, these parks are still in their infancy.

Yet marine parks are already providing economic dividends to local communities, by attracting significant tourism. The establishment of the Solitary Island Marine Park, for example, saw a 20% increase in local business’s turnover in the first five years. Jervis Bay Marine Park has brought an estimated $2.4 million into the region through marine tourism.

“Marine parks have become essential infrastructure for regional economies. As long as investment in the parks is maintained, benefits will continue to increase over years and even decades,” said report author Caroline Hoisington.

Recreational and commercial fishing also benefit from marine parks, particularly sanctuary zones, where fishing is restricted. European studies have shown that for each year a sanctuary zone is in place, the number and/or size of commercially valuable fish increased by 8 per cent compared to surrounding fished areas. Benefits flow when these fish spill over into surrounding areas.

“Local community support for sanctuary zones is 80 per cent or higher, in the three marine parks where opinions have been surveyed”, Caroline said. “The numbers are no different for recreational fishers.”

Recreational fishing may also see bigger and better catches immediately, as competition from commercial fishing is reduced. However, sustainable fish stock management must also take account of recreational fishing, which makes up as much as 90 per cent of the catch for some NSW species.

The report recommends the NSW Government set 15 years after zoning as the earliest point for making judgments about the impacts and environmental effectiveness of marine parks. Improvements in biodiversity, biomass and resilience of fish species will continue to take place after this time. The first fifteen years is not the end of benefits from marine parks, but is just enough time to show big changes.

By contrast, decisions based on short-term assessments risk being driven by emotional reactions, rather than taking a balanced view based on evidence of the dividends that will continue to flow from marine parks.

CPD OP 34 Marine Protection Dividend


Short-term thinking cannot address Australia’s long-term dilemmas – Help us look further ahead!



Blog Comments

Caroline, marine parks are not about fishing remember? No species is under threat in OZ from recreational landbased fishing. Targeted conservation can be legislated to protect any species when required. Holistic bans on all forms of fishing are for the realm of zealots. Quote…… Caleb Gardener fisheries program leader at the University of Tasmania….”The cost of all this academic handwaving around vague conservation goals of MPAs is that it has shifted attention away from solving specific marine conservation issues. NSW has around 6 threatened marine species with most being highly mobile and unsuited for protection with closed areas. Highly mobile sharks dominate listings in NSW and continue to be impacted by shark meshing and the use of stainless hooks yet MPAs are considered a priority for conservation?While the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and Environment and Heritage NSW are putting all their effort into deckchair shuffling with MPAs, threat abatement is ignored.NSW has one threatened and shrinking marine habitat, Posidonia australis seagrass beds, which NSW E&H attribute to terrestrial impacts from siltation and eutrophication. Yet the focus has been taken away from doing anything about protection of these important habitats through dogma on MPAs. The Nature Conservation Council argues “Marine sanctuaries .. are one of the strongest forms of protection available to vulnerable species such seagrass meadows”. Marine conservation has lost it’s way when there’s a need to protect threatened ecosystems from run-off but all we seem to talk about is MPAs, which in practice are about forcing rec fishers to catch their mullet further up or down the coast.”

Hi Wade, I agree with much of what you say, but of course not all.

The “sanctuary zones” in marine parks are created for conservation, scientific study and because there is evidence that intact marine ecosystems show more resilience in the face of stress, and particularly important, multiple stresses including those you mention. We know from other areas that when marine areas that have been fished are fully protected, ecosystems change. For example, “urchin barrens” have been reversed to kelp beds in Tasmania and New Zealand protected areas because over time snapper and lobsters, major predators of sea urchins became more numerous &/or larger. NSW rocky coasts have extensive urchin barrens (50%), but we won’t know if creating sanctuary zones in such areas will cause regeneration of kelp beds (and also more lobster and snappers available to catch around the sanctuary zones) for some years. Biology takes time, and the zoning (so partial protection) of NSW marine parks is relatively recent (2002-2007, so from 11 to 6 years old).

You say that marine parks are not about fishing, but they are about multiple use, with over 80% of the area of marine parks (the areas other than the sanctuary zones) open to recreational fishing, and some commercial fishing in all of them, so the question of the effect of marine parks on fishing – and fishing on marine parks is relevant.

You are certainly right the marine parks and MPAs in general do not solve all problems, including some of the most pressing ones. Pollution from land activities, siltation of seagrass beds, and more are extremely important. They require attention, although agriculture and urban authorities may be able to do more than fishing and marine park managers can. I hope that there will be public pressure and expertise aimed at solving those threats, and I agree with you that these are crucial issues. MPAs are currently in the news because of the recent efforts to create them, and the current government’s statements about reviewing their creation, so the topic is more newsworthy – but I don’t think that the creation of marine parks with sanctuary zones is responsible for failure to take care of other marine issues. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It should be both.

As to moving recreational fishing, only 7% of NSW state waters is in declared sanctuary zones. Recreational fishers can fish in the other 93%. And in the marine park areas, NSW spent $30 million to buyout some of the commercial fishing when the parks were zoned, effectively reducing the competition for fish within the parks to the advantage of recreational fishers. Tourism authorities and recreational fishers attest to the good fishing within the parks.

Hi Wade,
Name confusion from an old account. Kit is me, Caroline Hoisington & I was surprised by the name. Sorry for any confusion.

Quote…” Where a reserve is designed to support fisheries through sustained spillover of adults into fished areas, increased abundance of predators within the reserve can limit the site’s effectiveness. If predators are consuming the same target species the fishermen are harvesting, they essentially become competitors for that prey source. Spillover of the target species decreases, and the fishermen may suffer reduced catches”

The massive expansion of NZ fur seals a case in point for south Australia since they were protected. Biodiversity and tourism has suffered as these seals undermine any benefit to restrictions on fishing.You cannot advocate precautionary principals on all forms of fishing then ignore those principals because the bleeding hearts don’t understand that some protection can have massive uncontrolled consequences as well.

Hi Wade,

Remember, Marine Parks are indeed for purposes of conservation not fishing. Benefits for fishers are often a result, but no one will be surprised by exceptions. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of places in Australia, where good data has been collected for many years. But there are a few.

“Bleeding Hearts”? I hope you don’t intend to characterize all of us who are in favour of marine parks as such. Many people, including most recreational fishers, are in favour of them according to a number of Australian surveys. Personally, I’m in favour of fishing and love to eat seafood, but I’d like not to worry about the oceans, and there is plenty of reason to worry, even in Australia. I think there should be areas that are off-limits for the longer term health of marine ecosystems. Remember, it’s only 7% of NSW coastal waters that’s off limits to recreational fishing and 93% open, subject of course to Fishery Dept rules..

Here’s a quote back to you, about Australian example but from NY Times:

“On the face of it, the value of a marine reserve — the equivalent of a national park or wildlife preserve on land — seems obvious. The oceans are in trouble, and setting aside regions of biodiversity, where fishing is strictly limited, if not prohibited, is one of the few effective means of protecting many species at once. But politically, there is nothing simple about creating marine reserves in international waters. Recently, China and Russia succeeded in blocking, yet again, the creation of a large marine reserve in Antarctica.

“New research indicates that marine reserves may have an even greater importance than scientists previously supposed. A study recently published in Nature Climate Change found that marine reserves do more than merely shelter species that live within them. By enhancing the resilience of marine communities, reserves help ward off some of the effects of climate change, including invasion by species from warmer waters.

“The study was based on research conducted at the Maria Island Marine Reserve, just off the coast of Tasmania. Though the reserve was only established in 1991, data on marine life there had been collected for more than 70 years. Comparing the reserve’s ecosystem with similar but unprotected waters where fishing was allowed, scientists found greater long-term and short-term stability.

“The overall health of the ecosystem helped create what the authors of the study called “a feedback mechanism to promote stability.” The scientists found a substantial increase in the number of large-bodied fish and much less fluctuation, year to year, in the population of smaller fish.

“This is a reminder of something that all too easily goes unnoticed. How species will endure the effects of global warming depends less on the individual species than the overall health of the ecosystem it belongs to. This study also suggested another essential service that marine reserves provide. By giving us a view into a relatively unaltered past — since the 1940s in the case of Maria Island — they show how healthy ecosystems function, which will be increasingly valuable as climate change disorders them.”


Caroline I do agree that some forms of fishing are destructive but not all. Your position suggests that to achieve advocated biodiversity, biomass targets all fishing must be banned but I disagree. Sydney harbour outstrips marine parks despite heavy rec fishing pressure. It is closed to commercial fishing however.

Plus outside of predator prey relationships there are many other factors, activitlies not banned that undermine sanctuary zone potential.


There is also lost productivity from land use……

As for the NSW case it is only shorebased rec line fishing not beach net haul commercial fishing etc or boat fishing. Nothing that any science has proven undermines sanctuary zone potential or other conservation goals. Claims of rec fishing catches being close or higher than commercial catches do not include bycatch figures or waste figures and it is misleading to make such statements without also recognising this fact.

At the end of the day I don’t mind if a few areas are closed to all forms of fishing but I will never except that these areas are “protected” or that climate change should ban fishing. Despite recent anthropogenic influences on climate, climatic changes have occurred since time began and as always there will be both benefits and detriments from change.

Cheers Wade

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