Government and Private Protection of Marine Resources
At the National Marine Protected Areas Center website you can find this explanation of government MPAs:
MPAs are internationally recognized as a means for conserving natural, historic, and cultural marine resources. Through protection of marine species and habitats, MPAs provide social and economic
benefits, including sustainable recreational and commercial use of marine resources and enhanced research and educational opportunities. MPA networks can help individual MPAs achieve conservation goals, providing additional social and economic benefits. Like most actions, achieving benefits usually involves costs or tradeoffs. In the case of MPAs, some human activities may be prohibited or restricted in order to achieve the benefits of establishing an MPA. (“Archives – What MPAs Provide the Nation”)
The idea of tradeoffs is key in economics. The first pillar of the Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom is: Nothing in our material world can come from nowhere, nor can it be free; everything in our economic life has a source, a destination and a cost that must be paid – by someone. And Pillar 2 is: Government is never a source of goods. Everything produced is produced by the people, and everything that government gives to the people, it must first take from the people.
Of course marine ecosystems are not produced in the way cars, homes, or smartphones are. Instead, ecosystems that become marine protected areas are natural places that have often remained unowned or undeveloped.
The MPA description above claims: “Through protection of marine species and habitats, MPAs provide social and economic benefits, including sustainable recreational and commercial use of marine resources and enhanced research and educational opportunities.” These sound like nice benefits, but what are the costs? According to MPA Center, these are: “In the case of MPAs, some human activities may be prohibited or restricted.” So MPA administrators decide what “recreational and commercial uses” are allowed and what “human activities” are to be “prohibited or restricted.” Plus, there are the costs of purchasing or regulating-down the MPA, and then managing and patrolling activities.
Regardless of the scientific credentials of the MPA managers, there are problems of politics and bureaucracy (you can watch Parks and Recreation to get an idea of problems involved.) Is there an alternative to having the federal government own and manage marine ecosystems? With state and federal bureaucracies finding it so difficult to run schools for children, why should we think similar government bureaucracies well suited for managing schools of fish?
One alternative is the Nature Conservancy whose ads used to be something like “We save land the old-fashion way; we buy it.” This is the land trust model and applies as well to marine ecosystems:
The land trust model of private land protection is distinguished from protection by government and the actions of land advocacy organizations. Source: website on Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America
Here is the Nature Conservancy page on Oceans and Coasts.
A million dollars spent to protect a marine ecosystem in a particular area is a million dollars not available to spend elsewhere. For federal government spending there are trade-offs at two levels. Dollars spent on MPAs are dollars not spent on other federal programs. (This could be a good thing if money it taken away from intrusive and counterproductive federal spending.)
The other level of tradeoff follows from tax-dollars spent on MPAs. These dollars are first taken away from taxpayers, then spent on federal programs. With the current level of deficit spending, federal dollars are generally created by the Federal Reserve. This borrowing or creating process either must be paid back in the future, or reduces the value of other dollars outstanding (which is inflation).
Alternatively, Nature Conservancy’s process for protecting oceans and coasts is to persuade people, both rich and not so rich, to contribute to Nature Conservancy funds that purchase or lease marine ecosystems. Nature Conservancy could work independently of government, but has chosen to partner with government agencies on some restoration and preservation projects.
Many non-government projects protect marine natural resources. This online visual presentation by Steve Rocliffe provides an overview and mentions various examples around the world: “New tools for marine conservation–privately managed marine reserves.” (if you close the download pdf box, you can just view the slides).
In recommending private protected marine areas, the presentation lists problems with “paper parks,” that is, marine ecosystems that are protected by government agencies in theory, but not in reality.