Natural moneyspinner’s ‘inadequate protection’

Written by Melanie Gosling (Published Feb 27, 2015) Cape Times

Cape Town – The world’s national parks and nature reserves do not only protect plants, animals and ecosystems – they generate an estimated $600 billion (R6.8 trillion) a year from tourism.

This vastly exceeds the less than $10bn a year the world spends on protecting these places, according to a study published in the open access journal PLOS Biology, the first study into the global scale of nature-based tourism in protected areas .

Researchers looked at how many visits were made to protected areas – anything from a vast national park or wilderness area to a small nature reserve – and what these translated into in monetary terms. They came up with the figure of $600bn, and say that was a conservative estimate.

Andrea Manica, from Cambridge University, said the ballpark figures had been based on limited data, so the researchers had been careful not to overstate the case.

“Visitor rates are likely to be higher than 8 billion a year and there is no doubt we are talking about hundreds of billions of tourism dollars a year,” Manica said.

The researchers said attempts to calculate what protected areas were worth usually tried to quantify “ecological services” which natural areas provided for society.

These services include stabilising global climate, regulating water flows and protecting species important for livelihoods. However, some of these ecological services protected areas offered were difficult to measure, particularly in the realm of cultural or religious benefits.

But nature-based recreation had tangible visitor numbers.

The researchers took visitor numbers for 550 sites worldwide, which were then used to build equations that could predict visitor rates for another 140 000 protected areas, based on their size, remoteness, national income and other factors.

The lead author, Andrew Balmford, said the study had established that in addition to providing “untold benefits” in ecological services, nature reserves and national parks contributed “in a big way to the global economy – yet many are being degraded through encroachment and illegal harvesting, and some are being lost altogether. It is time that governments invested properly in protected areas”.

Another of the authors, Robin Naidoo, said the existing reserve and national park network needed about three or four times more money spent on it than was currently the case.

“Our $600bn figure for the annual value of protected area tourism is likely to be an under-estimate – yet it dwarfs the less than $10bn spent annually on safeguarding and managing these areas,” he said.

Visitor numbers were highest in North America, with more than 3 billion visits a year, and lowest in African countries, some of which had fewer than 100 000 visits a year.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area near San Francisco had the highest recorded visitor rate, with an annual average of 13.7 million visitors, followed by the UK’s Lake District with 10.5 million visits.

Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park had an annual average of 148 000 visits.


Cape Times