Impacts of marine protected areas on human wellbeing

A global movement is growing to protect and restore marine habitats, exemplified by initiatives like the High Seas Treaty and International commitment to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030, through a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), known as the ‘30 x 30 target’ agreed at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD Cop15) . There is generally broad public support for marine conservation as evidenced by opinion polls [1], but often much resistance from certain coastal stakeholders to measures that could affect the short-term socio-economics of coastal communities [2]. The benefits of protected areas for biodiversity are well evidenced [3,4]. However, concerns arise where increasing levels of marine protection result in restricted economic activity and livelihoods which depend on access to marine resources, such as fisheries, limiting growth and employment opportunities in coastal regions. The impacts of activities on the marine environment are often complex, and intertwined, leading some stakeholders to argue this is a reason for maintaining the status quo. The concerns are often greatest where recommended protection levels are strongest and consequently, there is a pressing need to better understand and communicate the full range of economic and societal implications of marine protected areas to support legitimate, politically feasible and long-term successful implementation of effective protected areas in the future.

This project aims to provide an inter-disciplinary and in-depth investigation of the full range of social and -economic benefits and costs of marine protected areas, as experienced by coastal communities living adjacent to the UK’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network. The PhD will use an interdisciplinary approach to review, compile and evaluate the socio-economic effects of protected areas on extractive industries, tourism, and the physical and mental well-being of community residents and visitors. Factors to be investigated will include the location of the MPA (distance from shore, depth, region), nearest population centres, importance to extractive industries (e.g., fishing), levels and types of community support, how it is publicised/described in mainstream and social media, signage etc., size, age, protection level, evidence of effect on biodiversity. The UK’s MPA network provides an ideal opportunity to answer these questions, with a patchwork of different protection levels, including a small number of Highly Protected Marine Areas/No-Take Zones.

Goal 1: Synthesise existing evidence on the socio-economic benefits and costs of marine protection in an open-access database.
1. Review and compile existing case studies and research on the socio-economic impacts of marine protection from around the world (e.g. reports by governmental/non-governmental organisations) and grey literature
2. Categorise the collected data based on the types of marine protection measures and their geographical locations.
3. Develop a user-friendly open-access database accessible to researchers, policymakers, and the public for easy reference.

Goal 2: Quantify and qualify the benefits and costs of marine protection for two UK case studies using a mixed methods approach.
1. Use qualitative research methods such as interviews and surveys to understand community perceptions, attitudes, and experiences related to marine protection.
2. Employ quantitative methods to measure and compare the direct economic impacts (e.g., revenue from tourism, fishing, etc.) and indirect benefits (e.g., improved biodiversity) of marine protection.
3. Assess how differing economic conditions, including employment opportunities, play a role in shaping community attitudes toward marine protection.
4. Explore the relationship between coastal communities and the MPA, considering aspects like cultural ties and historical connections.
5. Analyse data to identify regional variations in support for marine protection measures, taking into account factors like proximity to MPAs, population density, and economic dependencies on the marine environment.

Goal 3: Establish a set of guidelines (including measurable indicators) for assessing and reporting the socio-economic effects of marine protection measures in the UK context.
1. The thesis will adapt existing frameworks on marine protected area management such as the JNCC MPA management toolkit [6] to include socio-economic factors to assess the overall impacts of marine protection.
2. Test these guidelines for two UK case study regions.


This highly interdisciplinary project will focus on developing and testing a framework that encompasses methods from ecological, economic and social sciences to analyse the socio-economic benefits and costs of marine protection for coastal communities within the UK’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network. The student will implement a review of the scientific and grey literature to synthesise the available evidence on the direct and indirect benefits of marine protection globally. Fieldwork will be carried out for two UK coastal communities following standardised socio-economic quantitative and qualitative methods including stakeholder mapping, community workshops and household surveys (discrete choice experiment and travel cost). Analyses will be undertaken to understand how preferences for marine protection measures vary by MPA location, the importance of extractive industries, types of community support and how it is published/described in mainstream and social media. These data will be linked with existing data for the case study regions, including Marine Scotland Fisheries Statistics, UK Sea Fisheries Statistics, Nature Scot condition data and existing socio-economic statistics available through the Office for National Statistics.

Project Timeline

Year 1

In the first year, the student will synthesise existing evidence on the benefits and costs of marine protection (Literature review, thesis Chapter 1 and publication preparation). The student will start to develop the qualitative and quantitative field work approaches.

Year 2

In the second year, the student will undertake qualitative field work including stakeholder mapping and community workshops for the two selected case studies (thesis Chapter 2, publication preparation). Provisionally, these will be the Isle of Arran, Scotland, where MPAs have been established since 2008, and Allonby Bay in Cumbria, which is one of 3 new Highly Protected Marine Areas designated in England in 2023. This will guide the design of the household survey combing discrete choice experiments and travel cost approaches. By the end of the second year, the final household survey will have been undertaken for analyses in the final year of the project.

Year 3

In the third year, the student will develop the standardised framework for assessing the socio-economic benefits and costs of marine protection. Analyses of the household survey data will be undertaken to understand the drivers of public preferences for marine protection (thesis Chapters 3 and 4, publication preparation). The student will discuss findings with the stakeholders to identify how this evidence on the benefits and costs of marine protection can be better communicated with affected to communities to increase support for marine protection measures. The student will have the opportunity to present findings relevant conferences including the Coastal Futures and BioEcon.

Year 3.5

The student will synthesise the information collected to discuss the implications marine protected area implementation (thesis Chapter 5 and publication preparation).

& Skills

The student will receive training in key skills relevant for the conservation and management in the coastal and marine environment across multiple disciplines including (i) marine conservation policy (Bailey/Stewart), ii) marine biodiversity data analysis (Bailey/Stewart), iii) participatory approaches (Coulthard), iii) environmental economic valuation (Simpson) and iv) combined ecological-economic analyses approaches (Simpson).

Novelty: The work is highly interdisciplinary allowing the student to benefit from research and teaching capacities of the relevant research groups at the University of Glasgow (marine science and conservation policy, environmental and one health economics) The Marine Biological Association (Plymouth) (marine ecology and ecosystem management) and Newcastle University (marine social science).

References & further reading

[1] Hynes, S., Ankamah-Yeboah, I., O’Neill, S., Needham, K., Xuan, B.B. and Armstrong, C., 2021. The impact of nature documentaries on public environmental preferences and willingness to pay: entropy balancing and the blue planet II effect. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 64(8), pp.1428-1456.[2] Voyer, M., Gollan, N., Barclay, K. and Gladstone, W., 2015. ‘It׳ s part of me’; understanding the values, images and principles of coastal users and their influence on the social acceptability of MPAs. Marine Policy, 52, pp.93-102.[3] Sciberras, M., Jenkins, S.R., Mant, R., Kaiser, M.J., Hawkins, S.J. and Pullin, A.S., 2015. Evaluating the relative conservation value of fully and partially protected marine areas. Fish and Fisheries, 16(1), pp.58-77.[4] Turnbull, J.W., Johnston, E.L. and Clark, G.F., 2021. Evaluating the social and ecological effectiveness of partially protected marine areas. Conservation Biology, 35(3), pp.921-932.[5] Schratzberger, M., Neville, S., Painting, S., Weston, K. and Paltriguera, L., 2019. Ecological and socio-economic effects of highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) in temperate waters. Frontiers in Marine Science, p.749.[6] https://jncc.gov.uk/our-work/mpa-fisheries-management-toolkit/

Further reading:

Stewart, B.D., Howarth, L.M., Wood, H., Whiteside, K., Carney, W., Crimmins, É., O’Leary, B.C., Hawkins, J.P. and Roberts, C.M., 2020. Marine conservation begins at home: how a local community and protection of a small bay sent waves of change around the UK and beyond. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7, p.76.

O’Leary, B.C., Copping, J.P., Mukherjee, N., Dorning, S.L., Stewart, B.D., McKinley, E., Addison, P.F., Williams, C., Carpenter, G., Righton, D. and Yates, K.L., 2021. The nature and extent of evidence on methodologies for monitoring and evaluating marine spatial management measures in the UK and similar coastal waters: a systematic map. Environmental Evidence, 10(1), pp.1-23.

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