Myth 17: Marine Conservation Agreements lead to disenfranchisement among land and resource owners, managers and users by limiting their access to resources and failing to develop sustainable forms of alternative development.
Fact 17: Marine Conservation Agreements offer land and resource owners, managers and users a way to receive tangible benefits from natural resources and biodiversity while providing jobs, infrastructure and social services.
Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs) offer land and resource owners, managers and users a way to generate tangible benefits from precious commodities they control—natural habitat, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Ultimately, the net benefits to owners, managers and users from participating in MCAs must be positive—they must gain more than they lose from changing management and use patterns—otherwise they will not voluntarily consent to the agreements. It is up to conservation organizations to offer benefit packages through MCAs that make it in the owners’, managers’ and users’ best interest to participate and continue to participate into the distant future.1
MCAs that provide compensation to owners, managers or users to stop destroying habitat are sometimes mischaracterized when referred to as projects that pay local communities to do nothing. In fact, MCAs (especially in less-developed countries) commonly provide compensation in return for an active participating role in habitat and resource management by local communities. Doing so conveys direct benefits in the form of employment opportunities, as well as training and skills development that contributes to capacity in other arenas beyond conservation. In addition, benefits are often most effective as an incentive if targeted at the community level, in the form of social benefits in areas of health care, education and basic infrastructure, which serve to facilitate other economic activities rather than reward people for doing nothing.
By committing to long-term flows of benefits, MCAs provide ongoing investments in sustainable development, while conserving resource bases that may serve as the foundations for such development. In contrast, other conservation tools that seek to foster sustainable development have, in many instances, failed to achieve either ecological or financial sustainability and have not resulted in readily replicable models of success. Instead, many such projects continue only because of continued injections of cash, never achieving self-sufficiency, resulting in dependency without strengthening incentives for conservation. In addition, forgoing destructive exploitation imposes real costs on local resource owners, managers and users. Without direct incentive mechanisms these costs are often borne by those least able to afford them, undermining conservation objectives as well as equity considerations.
Thus, far from disenfranchising land and resource owners, managers and users, MCAs empower them by expanding the range of options available for generating benefits from the resources at their disposal.
1 Taken largely from Niesten, E., A. Bruner, R. Rice, and P. Zurita. June 2008. Conservation Incentive Agreements: An Introduction and Lessons Learned to Date. Conservation International. Washington, D.C