A marine protection area established off the coast of Mallorca is proving beneficial not just for the environment but for business, too, according to a study that appears to confirm the long-term benefits of MPAs for both habitats and economies.
According to the study, carried out by the non-profit Marilles Foundation, the protected area has generated EUR10 in benefits for each euro of the EUR473,137 (GBP402,000) invested in the scheme.
Since the 11,000-hectare (27,000-acre) MPA was set up at the request of the Cala Ratjada fishermen’s association in 2007, it has improved fishing in the area, made it easier to regulate leisure activities, slowed coastal erosion, and improved water quality and biodiversity, according to the study.
“The results of the study show the numerous social and economic benefits that come from protecting the sea,” said Aniol Esteban, the Marilles director.
The Marilles study – the first time that “natural capital accounting” has been applied to a Spanish MPA – is part of a European MPA Networks project, which aims to improve the management of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean.
Natural capital accounting is a practical framework based on the premise that the environment is itself an asset, and that the ecosystem services it provides must be integrated into the national accounts systems.
The data shows that the overall value of tourism, diving and boating in the MPA amounted to EUR3.1m, the remainder coming from the increased fishing catch.
“Marine protected areas deliver fish and much more,” said Esteban. “Investing in them pays off. The paradox is that marine protected areas in the Balearic Islands and the rest of Spain are massively underfunded. Marine protected areas need to be at the core of the Balearic and Spanish economic recovery strategy.
“Healthy seas and coasts are essential for a country’s prosperity. Spain is committed to declaring 30% of its waters as marine protected areas by 2030.”
MPAs are a tool for the regeneration of marine ecosystems that have the twin objective of increasing fishing stocks while preserving habitats and marine species.
It has been demonstrated that, over time, MPAs are one of the best way of conserving and building fish populations, producing larger and more abundant fish, with a six-fold increase in numbers seen in some areas.
Europe’s MPAs have previously been criticised for failing to protect the oceans and restore fishing to sustainable levels. Last year, auditors concluded there had been “no meaningful signs of progress” in the Mediterranean, where fishing is now at twice the sustainable level, according to their report.
There is a network of MPAs in the Balearic Islands but the Llevant MPA in eastern Mallorca was chosen for the study because of the quality of the scientific information available and the importance of the various economic sectors involved in its declaration and management.
The Balearic Islands have a network of marine protected areas that cover up to 21.5% of the Balearic Sea. It is a high percentage compared with other areas of Spain, Europe or the Mediterranean, though only 0.16% of the Balearic Sea is an integral reserve that is fully closed to fishing.