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.