Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Valuing conservation benefits of an offshore marine protected area

Increasing anthropogenic pressure in the marine environment highlights the need for improved management and conservation of offshore ecosystems. This study scrutinises the applicability of a discrete choice experiment to value the expected benefits arising from the conservation of an offshore sandbank. The valuation scenario refers to the UK part of the Dogger Bank, a shallow sandbank in the southern North Sea, and is based on real-world management options for fisheries, windfarms and marine protection currently under discussion for the site. In a national survey, the extent to which the general public perceive and value conservation benefits arising from an offshore marine protected area is assessed.

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The survey reveals support for marine management measures despite the general public’s limited prior knowledge of current marine planning.

The designation of the Dogger Bank as special area of conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive requires the development of a management plan that takes into account competing uses of that area. The two sectors with the largest actual and potential impact on the area are fishing and offshore windfarm development. While the Dogger Bank was unfamiliar to most respondents (only half (50.2%) stated that they had heard of the Dogger Bank before the survey interview), after the two main components of the hypothetical Dogger Bank management plan were introduced (regulation of fisheries and future windfarm development), support for these measures was elicited. The majority of respondents supported regulations both on fisheries (64.0%) and future windfarm development (61.8%) in that area.

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Results show significant, positive willingness to pay of respondents across the UK for an increase in species diversity, the protection of certain charismatic species and a restriction in the spread of invasive species across the site. This indicates positive effects on social welfare caused by the proposed management measures.

Discrete choice experiments can be used to value nonmarket environmental goods and services. This survey-based approach presents respondents with management measures that produce different sets of environmental improvements at differing costs to the respondents. By choosing their preferred measures, respondents state their preferences for the different environmental improvements. From the inclusion of the cost component, respondents‘ WTP for each of the other components can be estimated. Aggregated over the representative sample of the affected population, such WTP estimates provide quantification of the benefits of environmental changes for that population, e.g. for users and non-users of a particular area.

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Respondents living close to and far away from the North Sea coast value the proposed changes in the same manner. A potential decay of such values as one moves away from the coast, which is often found in environmental valuation studies, cannot be found in these data.

The value of many environmental goods for private households decreases the further they live away from the location where the good is provided. People living close to the environmental good usually derive the greatest benefit from it. This is not the case for the benefits from marine conservation as assessed in this study. These benefits are stable across space, indicating a high non-use component of value. Respondents value the proposed benefits not primarily because they (intend to) use the site but they derive benefits from the existence and conservation of the site and its features.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • Habitats and Birds Directive
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive

Lead Author:

Tobias Börger & Caroline Hattam
(tobnospamo@pml.ac.uk)
Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Date of research: May 2014

Related articles:

Deliberative valuation and the Dogger Bank 

Dogger Bank: stakeholder and policy-maker needs 

Ecosystem service changes in an offshore MPA

Co-existence in busy seas: the primary sectors 

Modelling hotspots of change in the North Sea 

The effect of windfarms and MPAs on fisheries

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.