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Well-being outcomes of marine protected areas


Marine protected areas are advocated as a key strategy for simultaneously protecting marine biodiversity and supporting coastal livelihoods, but their implementation can be challenging for numerous reasons, including perceived negative effects on human well-being. We synthesized research from 118 peer-reviewed articles that analyse outcomes related to marine protected areas on people, and found that half of documented well-being outcomes were positive and about one-third were negative. No-take, well-enforced and old marine protected areas had positive human well-being outcomes, which aligns with most findings from ecological studies. Marine protected areas with single zones had more positive effects on human well-being than areas with multiple zones. Most studies focused on economic and governance aspects of well-being, leaving social, health and cultural domains understudied. Well-being outcomes arose from direct effects of marine protected area governance processes or management actions and from indirect effects mediated by changes in the ecosystem. Our findings illustrate that both human well-being and biodiversity conservation can be improved through marine protected areas, yet negative impacts commonly co-occur with benefits.

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Fig. 1: Global distribution and characteristics of the studies and MPAs included in this review.
Fig. 2: Domains and categories of human well-being mentioned in studies reviewed.
Fig. 3: Summary of well-being outcomes of MPAs.
Fig. 4: Combined well-being outcomes summarized by explanatory variables.
Fig. 5: Co-occurrence of selected well-being outcome variables.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available in the Supplementary Information.


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N.C.B. hosted a workshop of co-authors that was made possible by her Lansdowne Scholar Award from the University of Victoria, and the OceanCanada SSHRC Partnership. N.J.B. recognizes the OceanCanada Partnership; G.G.G. recognizes funding from the Australian Research Council and C.K.W. recognizes support from an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship. S.G. recognizes CONICYT BASAL FB-0002. The British Columbia government provided S.B.’s time; the views presented are those of the author, not of BC Parks.

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Authors and Affiliations



N.C.B. conceived of the idea, reviewed the literature, led study design, collated quantitative data, carried out analyses and drafted the paper. All authors contributed ideas and to study design, reviewed papers for qualitative information and edited the paper. C.K.W. and T.C.T. reviewed the quantitative data.

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Correspondence to Natalie C. Ban.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–6, Supplementary Fig. 1, Supplementary references 1–118

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Data used in author analysis

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Ban, N.C., Gurney, G.G., Marshall, N.A. et al. Well-being outcomes of marine protected areas. Nat Sustain 2, 524–532 (2019).

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