Myth 12: Marine Conservation Agreements are too expensive for non-profit organizations to undertake.
Fact 12: The cost to enter into and implement Marine Conservation Agreements varies a great deal depending on project-specific circumstances—in some cases MCAs can be quite inexpensive and other case they may be very expensive.
Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs) typically involve two types of costs: 1) contractual financial obligations that consummate the agreements; and 2) costs for implementation (see Actions for more on the activities themselves). These costs have led some to question whether MCAs are affordable over the long term. In fact, in some places, the compensation required to persuade resource owners, managers and users to manage marine habitat for conservation will undoubtedly exceed some organizations' ability to pay. However, this is far from being universally true; in many areas MCAs are surprisingly affordable, while offering substantial benefits to resource owners, managers and users. Moreover, even in contexts when an MCA may seem expensive, it is not always clear that other approaches would necessarily be less expensive or that lower expenditures would be sufficient to achieve the desired conservation objectives.1 For more information on how the valuation process works for submerged lands, resources and ecosystem services, see Valuation.
Payments to owners, managers and users can often be justified as compensation to the public for the private use and enjoyment of public lands or resources. Such is normally the case when a marina operator, for example, acquires a lease for publicly-owned submerged lands and pays annual or monthly rents. Similar payments may or may not be required for MCAs. Project-specific circumstances will vary, but the factors below should be considered when deciding if and how much to pay for consummating an MCA.
- Free use available: It is common for local, state, or federal laws to identify uses of public lands that can be authorized for free or at reduced rental rates. For example, when lessees in Washington State provide public access as part of their lease activities, they may qualify for lease rent reductions. Agencies may also have the ability to negotiate rental rates. In this latter situation, if the agencies are supporters of the MCA project, they may be willing to negotiate free rent. Finally, if the lands and resources are already owned by a private entity, they may wish to donate the lands and resources to conservation organizations for free due to philanthropic, philosophical, and financial purposes. In any case, it is worth investigating if there are options to obtain free use of the lands and resources.
- Better to pay: In some cases, even if conservation organizations could qualify for or could negotiate free rent for the encumbrance of public lands, they may still choose to pay a fee. If organizations want to promote conservation as a legitimate use of public lands that has standing similar to many traditional uses (i.e., marinas, aquaculture, and mooring fields) and want to compete fairly and equally with the traditional uses, then organizations may want to pay similar rents and fees as the traditional uses. Also, many agencies have fiduciary responsibilities and need to generate revenues from the lands and resources they manage. A final consideration for conservation organizations is that if they receive free or discounted rents for using public lands, other users (such as for development, wetland mitigation, and contaminated sediment disposal) may want to be treated similarly. Clearly, private uses of public lands and resources for purposes that degrade the marine environment should, at a minimum, be paying fees for doing so.
- Legal requirements: There may be no escaping payment for the private use of public lands and resources for any purpose, including MCAs. In many states and countries, if there is any type of private encumbrance that excludes other public or private entities from using a site or resource, then payments must be made according to law. Often times, the processes for determining the amounts and timing of payments are also determined by law.
- Water-dependent rent: When rents or other forms of payments are made by organizations for MCAs, the fees should be considered water-dependent as opposed to nonwater-dependent. Water-dependent activities are generally considered activities that need to be located over, on, or in the water (i.e., marinas, mooring fields, and aquaculture). Whereas nonwater-dependent activities do not require a waterfront location, but only desire one (i.e., restaurants, bars, and hotels). In many states within the United States, water-dependent activities are preferred over nonwater-dependent activities and, as such, receive rent discounts.
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