Artificial reefs in marine protected areas provide additional habitat for biodiversity viewing, and therefore may offer an innovative management solution for managing for coral reef recovery and resilience. Marine park user fees can generate revenue to help manage and maintain natural and artificial reefs. Using a stated preference survey, this study investigates the present consumer surplus associated with visitor use of a marine protected area in Barbados. Two hypothetical markets were presented to differentiate between respondents use values of either: (a) natural reefs within the marine reserve or (b) artificial reef habitat for recreational enhancement. Information was also collected on visitors’ perceptions of artificial reefs, reef material preferences and reef conservation awareness. From a sample of 250 visitors on snorkel trips, we estimate a mean willingness to pay of US$18.33 (median—US$15) for natural reef use and a mean value of US$17.58 (median—US$12.50) for artificial reef use. The number of marine species viewed, age of respondent, familiarity with the Folkestone Marine Reserve and level of environmental concern were statistically significant in influencing willingness to pay. Regression analyses indicate visitors are willing to pay a significant amount to view marine life, especially turtles. Our results suggest that user fees could provide a considerable source of income to aid reef conservation in Barbados. In addition, the substantial use value reported for artificial reefs indicates a reef substitution policy may be supported by visitors to the Folkestone Marine Reserve. We discuss our findings and highlight directions for future research that include the need to collect data to establish visitors’ non-use values to fund reef management.

Coral reefs are of significant economic value to the scuba diving and snorkelling industries (Brander, Van Beukering & Cesar, 2007) and via these water-based activities, reef tourism contributes millions of dollars annually to coastal regions (Dixon, Scura & Van’t Hof, 1993; Cesar & van Beukering, 2004; Sarkis et al., 2013). A majority of reefs are located along the coastal strips of developing countries where people depend heavily on reef ecosystems for their livelihoods (Cesar, 2000; Cesar, Burke & Pet-Soede, 2003; Burke et al., 2011). In St. Lucia and Tobago alone, direct spending by reef tourists in 2006 contributed an estimated US$91.6 and US$43.5 million to each economy, respectively (Burke et al., 2008). More recently, Burke et al. (2011) reported values for global reef tourism at US$50/ha/yr to US$1,000/ha/yr. In Bermuda, Sarkis et al. (2013) calculated the average total economic value of their coral reefs at US$722 million per year, from which US$406 million was related to coral reef tourism. Despite the value of coral reefs to coastal populations for marine recreation, shoreline protection and fisheries production, among others (Moberg & Folke, 1999), global reef decline continues as a result of various anthropogenic activities (Halpern et al., 2008; Smith et al., 2016).

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have become an effective means of conserving reef ecosystems from human impacts (Halpern, 2003; Lester et al., 2009), while still allowing for recreational use of resources including scuba diving and snorkelling (Thurstan et al., 2012). Considered by some to be the ‘pinnacle’ in marine conservation (Thurstan et al., 2012), an MPA is defined as “an area of sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means” (Department of the Environment, 2013). The last four decades have witnessed a proliferation of MPAs globally (WDPA, 2013). Burke et al. (2011) note that over two and a half thousand marine parks and equivalent protected areas have been designated to conserve coral reef habitats, amounting to 6% of the worlds coral reefs being managed. The many conservation benefits of MPAs are well documented (e.g., Selig & Bruno, 2010; Johnson & Sandell, 2014; Leenhardt et al., 2015), including an increase in the size and biomass of fish species (Varkey, Ainsworthy & Pitcher, 2012; Caselle et al., 2015; Sciberras et al., 2015). As a consequence, biological enhancement typically increases the attractiveness of marine parks to divers and snorkellers (Barker, 2003), though this in itself may cause a dilemma between protection and use of coral reef resources (Thurstan et al., 2012).

Paper here.