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Cost of protecting the oceans

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4:10pm, June 20, 2004
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Operating an extensive global network of marine parks in which fishing and habitat-stressing activities are restricted would probably be more affordable for governments than continuing to subsidize struggling fisheries at current levels, a team of scientists calculates. Creating such a network would produce about 1 million jobs, the researchers assert. Furthermore, protecting areas in which fish populations recover could increase nearby fisheries' long-term viability.

The several hundred existing marine parks cover less than 0.3 percent of the world's oceans. Last year, the World Parks Congress, a periodic gathering of government delegates, recommended protecting 20 to 30 percent of marine areas to combat declining fish stocks and destruction of habitats.

Extrapolating from data on 83 marine parks throughout the world, Andrew Balmford of the University of Cambridge and his U.K. colleagues estimated operating expenses for the proposed larger network. Annual costs could be as high as $13 billion to $19 billion, they report in the June 29 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If some small, adjacent parks merge into larger, more cost-efficient ones, these costs would be significantly lower—perhaps as little as $5 billion to $7 billion per year—the researchers predict.

Costs may fall even lower because developing countries' parks and parks located far from shore are relatively inexpensive to operate, the researchers found.

By comparison, governments collectively spend between $15 billion and $30 billion per year on subsidies that compensate fishermen who lose income as a result of government restrictions.

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