Sea Change: Quantifying the Costs and Expected Benefits of Large-Scale Ocean Conservation

an expansive view of coastline in Micronesia, forested with mangroves.
Lembongan Island, Indonesia Fishing boats and seaweed farms populate the waters off the coast of Lembongan Island, Indonesia. © Kevin Arnold

As ever-increasing pollution, climate change and overfishing put pressure on marine habitats and drive biodiversity loss, coastal nations are seeking solutions. But to plan for a more sustainable future, leaders need better information.

The global 30x30 initiative – which includes an effort to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030 – is one important approach to improving ocean health. But many nations cannot move forward with setting and implementing protection goals unless they have better estimates of the economic implications, financing gaps and expected benefits of marine protected areas.

Estimates of the costs and benefits of 30% area-based conservation for a country’s ocean domain are critical to negotiating and structuring finance packages to create adequate cash flows for marine conservation into the future. But high-level decisions on environmental policy and funding often require an estimate of costs to be made before the exact location, size and coverage of a comprehensive ocean plan is developed.

Innovation in financing and planning can ensure representative, well-connected and equitable networks of MPAs that can be effectively managed for durable marine protection. TNC is working with economists to create a model for the costs and benefits of 30% ocean protection across a range of scenarios to help nations plan for their own best future.

Kupang Island, Indonesia
Kupang Island, Indonesia Oeba Fish market on Kupang Island, Indonesia. Starting at 4am thousands of fish are sold from the fisherman to middle men who sell it to the public. © Kevin Arnold
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
North Sulawesi, Indonesia Red and black anemonefish in bleaching anemone photographed in the waters at Lembeh Strait, Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. © Jeff Yonover

Three things you need to know about catalyzing marine protection by 2030:

Every Nation’s Economy is Unique

There’s no absolute global ratio of costs to benefits that applies to every place, but coastal nations can use this analysis to estimate locally relevant costs and benefits that can inform marine protection approaches for their people and their natural resources.

Conservation Benefits Can Outweigh Costs

Our model indicates that in most places, the estimated economic benefits of 30% marine protection are on par with costs by 2030, and in some scenarios, the benefits greatly exceed costs, even in the short term.

Communities are Critical to Marine Protection

This model incorporates­­ the costs and long-term benefits of conservation – a comprehensive picture of the economic outcomes. In doing so, we get a more accurate picture of how 30x30 affects economies and we empower governments to make better decisions that can serve local people and community needs.

Get the Research: Sea Change

Quantifying the costs and expected benefits of large-scale ocean conservation for the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework


Supporters made this research possible, including Becht Family Charitable Trust, Oceans 5, TED Audacious Project & Jeff and Laurie Ubben.