Book: Economic Incentives for Marine and Coastal Conservation: Prospects, Challenges, and Implications

Edited by Essam Yassin Mohammed, 2014, Routledge, London. The book is available at for US $37.57.

Review by Tundi Agardy, MPA News contributing editor.

These chapters on economic incentives, compiled by Essam Mohammed of the International Institute for Environment and Development, are an important contribution to marine conservation. As we have seen time and again at international marine meetings, the most sought-after information for planners and managers is guidance on how to make effective management financially sustainable. This is key to the viability of MPAs.

Readers who assume the book is a set of guidelines on how to create incentives for conservation may be disappointed. More a collection of essays on the potential for sustainable financing and the theory behind it, the book does not prescribe a path to economic sustainability. A key point of the book is that reward systems for good behavior – a necessary element in any management plan – must be suited to the particular socio-ecological context of the protected area. Thus generic guidance on how to establish economic incentives is difficult if not impossible to present.

Nonetheless, readers will find good material on how to assess both social and ecological conditions, and use this information to develop tailored payment schemes to complement traditional institutional (and publicly financed) management. Of particular relevance to the MPA community is Lucy Emerton’s chapter on using valuation to make the case for economic incentives (i.e., private financing). Hebin Lin and Jeffrey Thornton’s chapter on integrated approaches in China, along with Tek Maraseni and Munir Hanjra’s chapter on agricultural catchment payment schemes in the Great Barrier Reef region, both emphasize that sustainable financing for effective management should extend to watersheds adjacent to MPAs. And lest the reader be left with the impression that harnessing markets for marine conservation is easy, the chapter by Marisol Rivera-Planter and colleagues on the challenge of creating economic instruments in Mexico’s MPAs in the face of perverse subsidies reminds us that no MPA is an island, and no incentive structures are established in a vacuum.

MPAs have been with us for decades, long enough for us to take stock of what works and what does not. MPAs where little attention has been given to the economics of management eventually fail. The consideration of ecosystem services, their value, and how these values can incentivize good behavior and support broader co-management may be the most important area on which to focus, now and into the future.