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Front. Mar. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00048

Shifted historical baselines reduce willingness to pay for conservation

 Loren Mcclenachan1*, Ryunosuke Matsuura2,  Payal Shah3 and  Sahan T. Dissanayake2, 4
  • 1Environmental Studies Program, Colby College, United States
  • 2Department of Economics, Colby College, United States
  • 3Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan
  • 4Department of Economics, Portland State University, United States

A loss of memory of past environmental degradation has resulted in shifted historical baselines, which may result in conservation and restoration goals that are less ambitious than if stakeholders had a full knowledge of ecosystem potential. However, the link between perception of baseline states and support for conservation planning has not been tested empirically. Here, we investigate how perceptions of change in coral reef ecosystems affect stakeholders’ willingness to pay (WTP) for the establishment of protected areas. Coral reefs are experiencing rapid, global change that is observable by the public, and therefore are an ideal ecosystem to test links between beliefs about baseline states and willingness to support conservation. We find that respondents perceived change to coral reef communities across six variables: coral abundance, fish abundance, fish diversity, fish size, sedimentation, and water pollution. Residents who accurately perceived declines in reef health had significantly higher WTP for protected areas (US $256.80 vs. $102.50 per year), suggesting that shifted historical baselines reduce engagement with conservation efforts. If WTP translates to engagement, this suggests that goals for restoration and recovery are likely to be more ambitious if the public is aware of long term change. Therefore, communicating the scope and depth of environmental problems is essential in engaging the public in conservation.

Keywords: Baselines, coral reefs, Choice experiments, marine conservation, Ocean optimism, Willingness to pay

Received: 07 Aug 2017; Accepted: 02 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Romuald Lipcius, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, United States

Reviewed by:

Geret S. DePiper, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States
Andrew M. Scheld, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Mcclenachan, Matsuura, Shah and Dissanayake. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Loren Mcclenachan, Colby College, Environmental Studies Program, Waterville, ME, United States,