Marine protected areas are underfunded. Experts discuss ways to address the funding gap

A well-managed and sufficiently funded MPA can restore good health to vulnerable ecosystems, help achieve global biodiversity conservation goals

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Wednesday 08 February 2023
Marine protected areas are underfunded. Experts discuss ways to address the funding gap
Photo for representation. Source: iStock Photo for representation. Source: iStock

A lack of funding poses challenges to the benefits that marine protected areas (MPA), areas managed for long-term conservation, can potentially provide, according to experts.

As many as 70 per cent of MPAs are underfunded. A well-managed and sufficiently funded MPA can restore good health to vulnerable ecosystems, according to a guide on financing mechanisms for MPAs.

Experts from across the world gathered at the fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Canada to discuss solutions to address this funding gap. 

This is crucial as nations agreed to protect 30 per cent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030 at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity held in 2022.

Blue Finance, a social enterprise, presented how they partner with local entities to build and manage four ‘bankable’ MPAs. The organisation has helped preserve 350,000 hectares (ha) of high-biodiversity coral reefs.

This involves a partnership between the government and a local non-profit entity. The former remains the owner, while the latter is responsible for management functions.

The four MPAs are Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve in Belize, Mindoro Network in the Philippines, North Pemba in Zanzibar and Banggai in Indonesia.

“MPAs can generate sustainable revenues for their own management,” said Valdemar Andrade, manager of the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve. 

They developed multiple business models for Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve in Belize. 

Revenue can be generated from statutory and non-statutory MPA fees for tourism programmes, blue carbon credits generated from mangrove conservation and avoided deforestation as well as seaweed farming and sustainable coastal fisheries, the expert highlighted.

Blue credits allow businesses to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits (removal of one tonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) equivalent to their emissions. 

Credits will be generated to conserve blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes, which are known to sequester carbon.

These models can fetch tangible returns for investors. It also ensures that the regions maintain independence from donors, according to the United Nations Environment Programme finance initiative.

M Romain Renoux, executive-director of MedFund, an environmental trust fund based in Monaco, spoke about sustainable financing for the day-to-day management of MPAs in the Mediterranean region. MedFund is managed by an alliance of Mediterranean states and regional organisations.

As of 2023, 15 MPAs exist, dotting Morocco, Tunisia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Türkiye and Lebanon, covering an area of 15,000 square kilometres. 

The day-to-day management includes active governance, surveillance and enforcement of regulations, regular scientific monitoring, environmental education, human resources and training as well as operational costs and small equipment.

These operations need blended finance, where funds are mobilised from public and private entities, Renoux said. 

But the expert added that no magic sauce exists. “Each site-level MPAs need a mix of funding sources,” he said.

Local financial mechanisms like visitor fees and concessions and developing local community businesses to help conservation are a few solutions, Thomas Binet, president and founder of BlueSeeds, an organisation providing financing and management solutions, noted.

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