The cost of enforcing a marine protected area to achieve ecological targets for the recovery of fish biomass
Protected areas are the primary management tool for conserving ecosystems, yet their intended outcomes may often be compromised by poaching. Consequently, many protected areas are ineffective ‘paper parks’ that contribute little towards conserving ecosystems. Poaching can be prevented through enforcement and engaging with community members so they support protected areas. It is not clear how much needs to be spent on enforcement and engagement to ensure they are frequent enough to be effective at conserving biodiversity. We develop models of enforcement against illegal fishing in marine protected areas. We apply the models to data on fishing rates and fish biomass from a marine protected area in Raja Ampat, Indonesia and explore how frequent enforcement patrols need to be to achieve targets for coral reef fish biomass. Achieving pristine levels of reef fish biomass required almost year-round enforcement of the protected area. Surveillance of the protected area may also be enhanced if local fishers who support the reserve report on poaching. The opportunity for local fishing boats to participate in surveillance was too small for it to have much benefit for total reef fish biomass, which increases slowly. However, specific functional groups of fish have much higher population growth rates and their biomass was predicted to increase markedly with community surveillance. We conclude that budgets for park management must balance the cost of conducting frequent patrols against supporting alternative activities, like education to build community support. Optimized budgets will be much more likely to achieve ecological targets for recovering fish biomasses and will contribute to fiscal sustainability of protected areas.