Looking below the surface: The cultural ecosystem service values of UK marine protected areas (MPAs)
Recreational users appreciate the UK marine environment for its cultural ecosystem services (CES) and their use and non-use values. UK Governments are currently establishing a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) informed by ecological data and socio-economic evidence. Evidence on CES values is needed, but only limited data have been available. We present a case study from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) follow-on phase that elicited divers’ and anglers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for potential MPAs. The case study is an innovative combination of a travel-cost based choice experiment and an attribute-based contingent valuation method. Our study design allowed us to understand the marine users’ preferences from both a user and a stewardship perspective. Following the UK NEA’s place-based CES framework, we characterised marine CES as environmental spaces that might be protected, with features including the underwater seascape, and iconic and non-iconic species. Our survey highlighted the importance of CES to divers and anglers. A wide variety of marine spaces influenced user-WTP, while stewardship-WTP was most influenced by management restrictions, species protection, and attitudes towards marine conservation. An understanding of key stakeholders’ CES values can inform a more holistic and sustainable approach to marine management, especially for decisions involving trade-offs between marine protection and opportunity costs of the blue economy.