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Ban, N. C., L. S. Evans, M. Nenadovic, and M. Schoon. 2015. Interplay of multiple goods, ecosystem services, and property rights in large social-ecological marine protected areas. Ecology and Society 20(4):2.
Research, part of a special feature on Advancing Social-Ecological Research Through Teaching: Social-Ecological Systems Framework and Design Principles in Large Areas

Interplay of multiple goods, ecosystem services, and property rights in large social-ecological marine protected areas

1School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, 2Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, 3Geography, University of Exeter, 4Duke University Marine Laboratory, Duke University, 5Center for Behavior, Institutions, and the Environment, Arizona State University


Protected areas are a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation, and increasingly, conservation science is integrating ecological and social considerations in park management. Indeed, both social and ecological factors need to be considered to understand processes that lead to changes in environmental conditions. Here, we use a social-ecological systems lens to examine changes in governance through time in an extensive regional protected area network, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We studied the peer-reviewed and nonpeer-reviewed literature to develop an understanding of governance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and its management changes through time. In particular, we examined how interacting and changing property rights, as designated by the evolving marine protected area network and other institutional changes (e.g., fisheries management), defined multiple goods and ecosystem services and altered who could benefit from them. The rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 2004 substantially altered the types and distribution of property rights and associated benefits from ecosystem goods and services. Initially, common-pool resources were enjoyed as common and private benefits at the expense of public goods (overexploited fisheries and reduced biodiversity and ecosystem health). The rezoning redefined the available goods and benefits and who could benefit, prioritizing public goods and benefits (i.e., biodiversity conservation), and inducing private costs (through reduced fishing). We also found that the original conceptualization of the step-wise progression of property rights from user to owner oversimplifies property rights based on its division into operational and collective-choice rule-making levels. Instead, we suggest that a diversity of available management tools implemented simultaneously can result in interactions that are seldom fully captured by the original conceptualization of the bundling of property rights. Understanding the complexities associated with overlapping property rights and multiple goods and ecosystem services, particularly within large-scale systems, can help elucidate the source and nature of some of the governance challenges that large protected areas are facing.
Key words: ecosystem services; Great Barrier Reef; marine conservation; marine protected area; property rights; social-ecological systems


Fisheries declines and marine biodiversity loss are ongoing environmental issues, with major repercussions for humanity and an urgent need for solutions (Worm et al. 2006, Cardinale et al. 2012, Costello et al. 2012). Two key tools are advocated to alleviate these problems. First, marine protected areas (MPAs) form a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation, with implementation increasing rapidly over the last three decades (Toropova et al. 2010, Marton-Lefèvre 2014). MPAs range in levels of protection, often incorporating multiple types of zones, spanning from general use zones to no-take or no-entry areas (Day et al. 2012). While no-take areas in particular have been shown to have positive effects on fish biomass and species richness and to contribute to ecosystem stability (Williamson et al. 2004, Lester et al. 2009), their effects on resource-dependent communities are less clear (Christie et al. 2003).

Second, improved definitions of property rights are increasingly advocated to improve fisheries sustainability (Yandle 2006, Allison et al. 2012, Vincent and Harris 2014). Industrial fisheries with rights-based fisheries reforms, referred to as catch shares or dedicated access fisheries in which fishers are allocated individual or community rights rather than industry-wide quotas, have been shown to be more sustainable than fisheries without such mechanisms (Costello et al. 2008). Indeed, externalities pose a big challenge in sustainability and could be ameliorated through property rights (Kinzig et al. 2013). Many nongovernmental organizations and funders are now advocating for better defining property rights in the oceans (e.g.,, making this an active area of research and implementation; the focus has been on environmental and economic gains rather than on evaluating broader impacts (Allison et al. 2012).

Both of these approaches to reducing fisheries and marine biodiversity declines recognize that marine systems are interlinked social and ecological systems. More attention to date has focused on studying ecological rather than social outcomes of MPAs and rights-based fisheries approaches (e.g., improvements in density and biomass of marine flora and fauna inside vs. outside MPAs and in fisheries that use catch shares). Increasingly, studies are also investigating social benefits and costs (Cinner 2007, Pinkerton and Edwards 2009, Mascia et al. 2010, Pollnac et al. 2010), and conservation science is focusing on integrating ecological and social aspects of MPAs in particular (Brechin et al. 2002, Christie 2004, Ban et al. 2009, Fox et al. 2012). Because social and ecological factors combine to create environmental problems and solutions, both need to be considered to understand processes that lead to changes in environmental conditions. Concepts to assist with exploring marine social-ecological systems (SESs), different types of governance effects, and who or what is affected, include ecosystem services, goods, and property rights.

Our purpose was to use the SES framework as an overarching tool to bring together literature on ecosystem services, goods, and property rights to assess the effects of governance innovation and reform on varied social and ecological outcomes in an SES. Our case study is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP), Australia, which undertook a major rezoning effort (e.g., no-take areas increased from 4.6% to 33%, Fig. 1) that was implemented in 2004. Our case study complements another effort to examine large cases as SESs (Cox 2014). Indeed, the need for our research emerged from another assessment about changes in the Great Barrier Reef SES that did not capture the nuances of changing ecosystem services, goods, and property rights (Evans et al. 2014). MPAs, like rights-based fisheries management, work through changing property rights. In the GBRMP, rezoning changed property rights by substantially altering the spatial extent of different zones that prohibit certain uses. We are interested in the spatial change in property rights, i.e., where different activities can be carried out, but also discuss fisheries management changes. We contend that integrating concepts of goods and property rights with the interdisciplinary concept of ecosystem services better illuminates the key processes and varied outcomes of governance, including implementation of MPA networks and rights-based fisheries management. We are interested in two aspects of outcomes: how goods and ecosystem services changed, and who benefited as a result of changing property rights. We use the SES framework to structure our case study.


The SES framework was developed to integrate social and ecological factors and their interactions, with a key goal to provide a common basis for organizing and understanding SESs (Ostrom 2007, 2009). The framework divides SESs into four core subsystems: resource system, resource units, governance system, and actors, all of which are embedded within a larger ecological, social, and political setting (McGinnis and Ostrom 2014). This framework allows researchers to compare cases in a systematic manner by identifying key components of SESs (Cox 2014, Leslie et al. 2015). For example, Basurto and Ostrom (2009) demonstrated the use of the framework to evaluate the conditions under which small-scale fisheries in the northern part of the Gulf of California, Mexico, could engage in effective resource governance and avoid tragedies of the commons. The SES framework thus provides a useful guide for investigating environmental issues and solutions for which both social and ecological characteristics matter. We used the SES framework to identify key components (resources, actor groups, governance system) that matter at the scale of our case and examined how these components were affected by the rezoning.

To complement the SES framework, we employed interdisciplinary concepts of ecosystem goods and services for our analysis. Ecosystem services refer to the benefits that people derive from nature. Ecosystem services are commonly categorized into provisioning, cultural, regulating, and supporting services (see Table 1 for definitions; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). Different ecosystem services behave like specific types of goods, i.e., public, private, common-pool resources, or toll goods, depending on the service, its purpose of use, and the property rights assigned to it, all of which determine levels of exclusivity and subtractability (Table 1, Fig. 2; Ostrom and Ostrom 1977). We refer to goods in the economic sense as tangible commodities such as products, materials, or services. Exclusivity occurs when users can be denied goods unless they meet the conditions of the supplier or owner (i.e., they can easily be denied access to goods). Subtractability implies that a good used by one cannot be used by others (Ostrom and Ostrom 1977). Importantly, goods are not synonymous with property rights but can be governed using different rights arrangements.

Property rights are a key management tool used to assign benefits from ecosystems to people (Table 1). Although the details of property rights vary from place to place with beliefs, conventions, and legal and institutional context (Baland and Platteau 1996, McCay 1996, 2002), the components of these rights appear to be consistent and stable (Schlager and Ostrom 1992). In marine systems, relevant components of property rights include rights of access (ability to visit an area), withdrawal (take specific products), management or comanagement (participate in decisions about management), exclusion (determine who is excluded from a right of access, withdrawal, or management), and alienation (sell, lease, or transfer rights; see Table 1 for full definitions and examples; Ostrom 2003, McGinnis 2011). Past research on property rights finds that such rights occur as bundles and argues that they often come as hierarchical bundles where, for example, those with management rights will also have access and withdrawal rights (Schlager and Ostrom 1992). From this perspective, the packaging of property rights advances in a simple step-progression from authorized user (right to access/withdraw resources) to claimant (adding management privileges/responsibilities) to proprietor (adding the right of exclusion) and finally to owner (with the right of alienation). In addition, these bundles also depend on the nature of the rule-making process within which they occur: who implements the rules (operational level) and who has the authority to change or create rules (collective-choice level). In this context, the rights of access and withdrawal are at the operational level, whereas management, exclusion, and alienation are at the collective-choice level.

Since the mid-1980s, natural resource management has focused primarily on understanding how property rights and other institutions can govern common-pool resources. However, MPAs, as a particular arrangement of property rights, can deliver a range of different types of goods and thus can affect diverse ecosystem services. By merging these three distinct theoretical concepts, we can better understand how property rights that are influenced by MPA zoning specifically mediate the benefits that different stakeholders can gain from ecosystem services (Daw et al. 2011).


Case study background

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia is a globally important marine ecosystem with vast environmental, cultural, social, and economic value. Human impacts on the Great Barrier Reef have occurred since the late 1800s through agricultural expansion and the introduction of mining (McCulloch et al. 2003). Concern about effects on the reef in the 1960s and 1970s culminated in the Great Barrier Reef Act in 1975. In recognition of the need for improved protection for biodiversity, the GBRMP was rezoned in 2004. The rezoning substantially changed the key management tool, the zoning plan (which has seven zones), considerably increasing no-take areas from 4.6 to 33% to improve biodiversity conservation (Fig. 1). The GBRMP covers approximately 345,000 km² and includes: islands (1%); coral reefs (7%); seagrass, shoals, and sandy or muddy seabed (61%); continental slope (15%); and deep ocean (16%; GBRMPA 2009). We selected the GBRMP for our analysis because it is a large SES that provides multiple ecosystem services and underwent significant changes to its governance system, and the accompanying set of property rights, between 2004 and 2014. There is a wealth of secondary data on the GBRMP, and yet relatively few analyses of these data are informed by institutional or governance theory. Finally, the GBRMP is often given as an example of successful marine conservation but provides an interesting case of the use of property rights to achieve a broad suite of governance goals (Fernandes et al. 2005, McCook et al. 2010, Day and Dobbs 2013).

Data collection and analysis

We take a longitudinal, qualitative, case study approach (Yin 1984) to examine in-depth the multiple processes of governance transition, in particular rezoning in the GBRMP. We used the SES framework to structure the analysis by identifying key components (resources, actor groups, governance system) that matter at the scale of our case for investigating shifts in property rights, goods, and ecosystem services in the GBRMP (Fig. 3). Our analysis applies the theoretical concepts described previously to a detailed examination of change processes in the Great Barrier Reef established from the peer-reviewed and nonpeer-reviewed literature and our personal knowledge of the Great Barrier Reef SES. Using the SES framework and the integrated concepts described, our analysis pieces together a somewhat disjointed set of literature on change processes and outcomes in the Great Barrier Reef, for instance, bringing together the social and ecological, commercial and recreational, and conservation and fisheries management literature. Our analysis is somewhat limited by our reliance on available secondary data. However, we believe that despite these limitations, the ability to conduct a systematic analysis over a relatively long temporal scale (~30 yr) provides a unique opportunity to assess how goods and ecosystem services changed, and who benefited as a result of changing property rights within the SES.

Following the terminology of the SES framework, we identified the key components comprising the GBRMP as a SES (Fig. 3). We focused on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act as the governance system. We defined key actor groups as those having an effect at the scale of the GBRMP. These actors include managers of the area (reef managers and fisheries managers) and three types of users (commercial fishers, recreational fishers, and tourists). Our analysis focused on these key actor groups, as well as gear-type subgroups for commercial fisheries, because they have strong effects on the broad GBRMP system, i.e., all ecosystems contained within the park, including coral reefs, mangroves, sandy bottom, etc. (hereafter referred to as Reef). However, we recognize that there are other actors within this SES who interact in different ways with one another or with the system (e.g., farmers and other land owners in the region, environmental activists, shipping industry) and whom we did not include because of the paucity of data in regard to our research question. Governance outcomes in the GBRMP have typically been understood in terms of changes to resource units such as coral cover and target fish populations (GBRMPA 2009, 2014). In a previous analysis, we used these variables as proxies for ecosystem health and fisheries sustainability, respectively (Evans et al. 2014). For the purposes of this analysis, however, the interaction outcome variables we are interested in are: type of rights, and degree of access the rights convey to ecosystem goods and services for different actor groups. We concentrate our results on these indicative social outcomes, but, following the SES approach, we discuss them in a system-level understanding of environmental outcomes.

We synthesized key events in the management of the GBRMP over a 40-yr period by reviewing relevant policies, legislation, and management plans (e.g., acts, zoning plans, management plans), and the peer-reviewed and nonpeer-reviewed literature. We developed a timeline of key events in the history of the GBRMP. For each key event, we deduced how property rights changed with management changes for key components of the SES, the effect these changes had on goods and ecosystem services, and who benefited. We subdivided the timeline into three periods based around major changes in the governance regime and categorized key characteristics of (and changes to) the ecosystem services and property rights systems. Furthermore, for each period, we evaluated the extent of spatial changes in management (i.e., zoning). In particular, we examined the property rights associated with each of the seven types of zones, and the corresponding goods and ecosystem services. We assessed whether the key actor groups’ property rights changed between the initial zoning plan and the rezoned system. We did this by calculating the percent change in each zoning area pre- and post-rezoning.


Summary of management changes

The GBRMP is managed for multiple values. Core strategic goals and principles include: a diverse, resilient environment; sustainable use; enhancement of “values”; integrated management; knowledge-based, precautionary management; and an informed, involved, and committed community (GBRMPA 1994). Activities within the GBRMP are managed through spatial allocation (zoning; Fig. 1) and temporal measures (e.g., seasonal closures) of various types of property rights systems (Fig. 2). Some activities are prohibited everywhere in the GBRMP (mining and oil drilling), whereas others are permitted in clearly defined areas (fishing, tourism, and shipping) and during specific times of the year (GBRMPA 2009); many of these have been changed during the course of almost 40 years of management.

Our review of management changes in the GBRMP revealed many adjustments through time that affected property rights, types of goods, and ecosystem services. We divided management of the GBRMP into three phases: initial zoning (1975–1999; Table 2), transition period (1999–2003; Table 3), and rezoned system (2004–current; Table 4). Here, we provide a much-abbreviated summary. Spatial management of the Reef began with the creation of the marine park in 1975 and its governing authority, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act prohibited mining throughout the region, enabled zoning to differentiate access and use rights for the park, and assigned management, exclusion, and alienation rights to the GBRMPA, authorizing it to design a system of other permissions to regulate, enforce, sanction, and monitor activities, including harvesting, shipping, and research. The initial zoning plan was prepared and gazetted in 1981 and implemented incrementally (Day 2002). The transition period occurred from 1999 to 2003–2004, when a systematic conservation planning approach called the Representative Areas Programme was undertaken. The program aimed to identify and implement a larger network of no-take zones that represented the diversity of bioregions and habitats encompassed in the GBRMP. The rezoned system saw the implementation of the new zoning plan in 2004. The plan designated seven marine zones ranging from “most reasonable use” to no-entry areas reserved for research purposes only. With the exception of the no-entry and no-take zones, access to other areas of the multiuse park are “as of right” or by permit (Macintosh et al. 2010).

Changes in management in the GBRMP affected several kinds of social-ecological interactions. Overarching interactions involve the introduction or significant amendment of the governance system (Governance [G] → Managers [AM] → Users [AU] → Resources [R]; Tables 2, 3, and 4), for example, when the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act (1975) and Fisheries Act (1994) were passed. For instance, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act prohibited all seabed mining, thus directly affecting the acquisition of private goods by a specific user group. In another instance (Croker Decision 2001), a change to the governance system directly influenced users and thereby affected the resource system (G → AU → R). This decision resulted in collective-choice rights for indigenous groups who now comanage their common-pool resources. More often, collective-choice rights remained with managers who made decisions to change operational institutions within the existing governance frame, leading to changes in the property rights of users and in turn affecting the resource (AM → AU → R). This type of interaction occurred when the initial zoning was implemented (1981–1988), during the Representative Areas Programme (1999–2003), and in changes to fisheries management plans (e.g., DEEDI 2009). In these cases, management agencies restricted the property rights of users for the extraction of common-pool resources within the park. Finally, one interaction created a link between two management agencies (comanagement agreement in 1979; AM ↔ AM).

Changes in goods, ecosystem services, and property rights

Management changes since the implementation of the GBRMP signal a general trend of reduced provisioning services in an attempt to increase cultural, regulating, and provisioning services (i.e., reducing fishing to allow depleted species to recover and be fished again; Tables 2, 3, and 4). The GBRMP was initially established to prevent mining within the park boundaries (Table 2). With continued evidence of declining ecosystem health, including regulating and supporting services (Stoeckl et al. 2011), subsequent management changes reduced the extent and intensity of provisioning services (i.e., commercial and recreational fishing). Of the users, commercial fishers carried the highest cost and recreational fishers some cost, whereas tourists benefited. In particular, the rezoning effort reduced the area available for fishing, and revised management plans in commercial fisheries (e.g., Coral Reef Finfish Fishery, East Coast Inshore Finfish Fishery, and East Coast Trawl Fisheries) restricted withdrawal rights (Table 4). These changes were supported by structural adjustment schemes to buy back fishing rights and reduce fishing capacity in the region overall (Gunn et al. 2010). Hence, fishing effort linked to provisioning services was not simply displaced in this case

Compared to ecosystem services, changes in types of goods have been more complicated (see Fig. 2 for review of types of goods). Most of the changes that reduced the spatial extent and intensity of fishing shifted fish from being a common-pool resource to serving as a public good. This shift is due to removing withdrawal rights for fish in some places (i.e., no-take zones), thus changing the role of fish from a catchable resource to emphasizing fishes’ role in rebuilding fish stocks and contributing to reef health. At the same time, some commercial fisheries management changes redefined fish as private property, rather than as common-pool resources, through implementation of individual transferable quotas (ITQs). The use of ITQs created property rights that made fish an excludable good. Management actions also created toll goods (for tourism operators) for what was previously a public good by creating exclusive rights for licensed operators to take tourists to the Reef.

Most of the changes to ecosystem services and goods were implemented through shifting property rights, especially withdrawal rights. The major shift in property rights occurred when the GBRMP was rezoned. The rezoning effort was instigated primarily to address concerns that the levels of biodiversity protection for the Great Barrier Reef were inadequate and were unlikely to ensure that the entire ecosystem remained healthy, productive, and resilient into the future (Day 2011). Implemented in 2004, the rezoning changed the spatial coverage of where activities could occur (Fig. 1; Olsson et al. 2008, McCook et al. 2010). In particular, it changed the spatial coverage of the seven types of zones. Each zone permits users to engage in different types of activity, i.e., each zone has specified property rights for users (Fig. 4). The general use zone allows all reasonable use and thus permits all types of fishing (i.e., commercial trawl, gillnet, other, and recreational fishing have withdrawal rights). This zone covered 78% of the Reef before rezoning, which was reduced to 34% after rezoning. The habitat protection zone allows some extractive uses, but prohibits trawling. The conservation park zone allows some more-limited extractive uses, and the buffer zone is a bit more restrictive. The scientific research zone allows no extractive use except some scientific sampling. The marine national park zones, also known as the Green Zone, allows no extractive activities, but access rights remain (i.e., fishing boats can transit over the area as long as they do not engage in fishing). Finally, the preservation zone is the most restrictive, also prohibiting access. The rezoning effort thus changed the access, withdrawal, and exclusion rights of actors (Fig. 4). The extent of the GBRMP protected by no-take zones (i.e., areas without consumptive withdrawal rights) increased from 4.6 to 33% (115,000 km²; Figs. 1 and 4).

Unlike withdrawal rights, management rights (Table 1, Fig. 4), which enable actors to participate in decisions about regulating the resources (Ostrom 2003), did not change for users as a result of rezoning; they only changed for managers. In the GBRMP, management is formally shared between the federal and state governments, and between reef and fisheries managers. Rezoning changed the focus of management rights allocated to managers of the region (GBRMPA, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, and Fisheries Queensland) from fisheries management (delivering common-pool resources as a provisioning service) toward biodiversity conservation (creating a public good and supporting services), with more monitoring and enforcement of no-take zones and the public goods derived from them. Other actor groups only have an informal say in management; they can make suggestions but do not have the authority to make management changes. Tourism operators and fishers can voluntarily contribute to management activities, for example, by monitoring and reporting coral bleaching, removing crown-of-thorns-starfish (a hyperabundant species), tracking their carbon accounts, or reporting illegal fishing. Resource users do not hold management or exclusion rights per se in that they cannot decide to what extent they and others are regulated or for what purposes (Fig. 4). There are, however, informal mechanisms of comanagement between government and other actors (e.g., see roles of partners listed by GBRMPA: These mechanisms include stakeholder consultation during rezoning (the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act lays out the minimum public participation required in the preparation of a zoning plan), committees to review and update management plans and policy (e.g., Australian Government 2010), Indigenous Reef Advisory Committee and other Reef Advisory Committees, 11 Local Marine Advisory Committees, and the Reef Guardian Fishers, Farmers, and Councils programs. Although these diverse stakeholders and the public are consulted during development of zoning plans and other policy changes, they do not have formal management rights.

Trade-offs and changing beneficiaries

In the GBRMP, a number of trade-offs were involved when changes to management were made: trade-offs between ecosystem services and between beneficiaries of ecosystem services, often linked to types of goods and implemented through shifting property rights. Rezoning shifted the emphasis from provisioning services (fisheries) to other services (supporting, regulating, cultural). The beneficiaries of ecosystem services thus shifted as well, from those that previously relied on private and common-pool resource goods and benefited from provisioning services (fishers, traders and consumers of local fish) toward those that benefit from toll and public goods, and cultural, regulating, and supporting services. The cost of rezoning, measured as the area of property rights lost (Fig. 5), thus fell mainly onto extractive actors at a local scale, whereas the benefits accrued to those who use toll and public goods, and cultural, regulating, and supporting ecosystem services. For example, the reduction in fishable area (withdrawal rights) was 44.1% for commercial trawl fisheries, 31.1% for gillnet fisheries, and 27.4% for other fisheries (Fig. 5). Alienation rights were likewise calculated as the area that remained fishable for fisheries that are managed under tradeable quotas (i.e., fisheries that can sell, or alienate, their withdrawal rights). In contrast, there was no change in management and exclusion rights for either of the groups (Fig. 5). Benefits of protection extend beyond the local scale; thus, people who benefit from public goods and cultural, regulating, and supporting services are more widely distributed. The beneficiaries of toll goods are more local and incur some costs for the privilege (e.g., the cost of hiring a charter boat), although this does not compensate the extractive actors directly. For the most part, those benefiting from the Reef’s public goods and ecosystem services other than provisioning services do not currently incur costs, or at least costs proportional to the benefits they receive. There is an environmental management charge for tourists visiting the reef through commercial tourism operators, but there are no other mechanisms for payments for ecosystem services currently in place for the Reef.


The major gap our work addresses is how changing property rights, resulting primarily from MPA implementation, affects the social-ecological outcomes (goods and ecosystem services) for different actors. A vast literature exists on MPAs, and a separate literature provides theoretical insights on property rights (Schlager and Ostrom 1992, Fennell 2011, Marschke et al. 2012), with as yet little connection between them (but see Mascia and Claus 2009). The link between MPAs and property rights is of particular interest to fisheries, a key use being managed within MPAs, where changes to or strengthening of property rights are actively being proposed (catch shares, Territorial User Rights Fisheries, etc.). Investigating changing property rights within an MPA, through a rezoning process, thus provides insights about the potential effects of such changes. The expanding literature on rights-based fisheries has not yet been appreciated for what it also means for marine conservation policy and planning. In the context of small-scale fisheries in developing countries, Allison et al. (2012) argue that more secure, less vulnerable fishers make better managers and stewards. They argue for an appreciation of human rights within fisheries management to bolster property rights approaches. These arguments extend to MPA implementation, in both developing and developed countries, where the effects of associated changes to property rights tend to be concentrated among one set of actors. Our study brings some of these links between rights-based fisheries outcomes and MPA governance outcomes to the foreground, in particular, the trade-offs between goods, services, and beneficiaries. Furthermore, by using the SES framework, we provide an approach for investigating how changing property rights can affect goods and ecosystem services that can be applied in other cases, allowing for future cross-case comparisons.

Our in-depth investigation of changes brought about by rezoning in the GBRMP highlight several conclusions. Management emphasis in this MPA shifted from provisioning services, i.e., allowing fishing to occur in most of the MPA, to regulating and supporting services. What were previously private benefits shifted to public goods. This was done primarily by reducing withdrawal rights to fisheries by expanding restrictive zones. The fishing method that has the most severe environmental impacts, bottom trawling (Watling and Norse 1998), also had the largest reduction in withdrawal rights. Tourists and the tourism industry are the main direct beneficiaries.

Despite some ecological benefits of the rezoning effort (i.e., demonstrated effectiveness of no-take zones at recovering depleted fish populations; McCook et al. 2010), the GBRMP still faces a number of governance challenges that emerge in part from a limited understanding of the interplay among a diverse set of property rights, goods, and ecosystem services. For instance, recreational fishing is still essentially treated as open access and so continues to manifest as uncertainty in ecological and social outcomes for Great Barrier Reef fisheries overall. Further, one challenge with the current rezoning is that where it prohibits consumptive withdrawal (fisheries) or nonconsumptive withdrawal (i.e., use by tourism), it does not necessarily prohibit access. Hence, a fishing boat may pass through a particular zone where fishing is prohibited, and it is the responsibility of management agencies to observe illegal activity directly to sanction rule-breakers. Continuing to allow unspecified access rights to zones where withdrawal rights are removed creates an added challenge in monitoring and enforcement for reef and fisheries managers, and may explain some of the disparity in ecological outcomes for no-entry and no-take zones in the Great Barrier Reef (GBRMPA 2009). Many small-scale MPAs do not allow access to fishing vessels in no-take areas. However, in large-scale systems, the legitimacy of removing access to no-take zones (with implications for transport and freedom of the sea in 33% of the park) or the practicality of endeavoring to license up to 700,000 recreational fishers is a question of political debate. Nevertheless, the way in which property rights are currently allocated has continuing implications for ecological outcomes in the GBRMP.

Our analysis of changes in management of the GBRMP provides both theoretically and empirically relevant findings. In terms of theoretical findings, our case study illustrates that the mixture of property right bundles extends beyond the original classification by Schlager and Ostrom (1992), which suggests a simple step-progression from authorized user all the way to owner. Furthermore, our case study also reveals that the original distinction among property rights components based on the rule-making authority, i.e., operational and collective-choice levels (Schlager and Ostrom 1992), is rather rigid and cannot account for the bundling nature of property rights in the GBRMP. In this case, the right of alienation was bundled with access and withdrawal rights through ITQs and other mechanisms, akin to the authorized user privileges of the original classification. What was surprising is that management and exclusion rights were not affected by any of the modifications in the GBRMP governance system and remained out of the hands of the resource user groups. As a result, we conclude that the five-tiered step-wise progression from user to owner oversimplifies property rights with multiple types of rights. We argue that the original classification can be modified based on the specific governance system in place (i.e., top-down management, comanagement, or community-based management) and the type of implemented management tools (e.g., area closures, ITQs, trip limits, gear restrictions). In addition, we also suggest that the current management strategies that in many instances attempt to achieve multiple goals (biodiversity protection, resource conservation, enhancement) can interact with each other and, because of that, are seldom fully captured by the original classification proposed by Schlager and Ostrom (1992). Thus, the bundling of property rights takes on additional complexity and new opportunities and creates a productive area for new research opportunities.

Two aspects of our empirical findings are relevant to other regions. First, by using a large-scale case study of an evolving multiple-use MPA network, we demonstrated trade-offs in the goods and services available to actors within and across spatial and temporal scales: from regional to global, and before and after rezoning of the MPA. Much of the current controversy surrounding protected areas comes, in part, from the differences between beneficiaries: who pays and who profits. Governing for multiple types of goods and services results in a provision of benefits at scales, both temporal and spatial, that are different from where costs accrue. In the temporal context, conservation benefits can take decades to realize, whereas the costs of forfeiting resource use are borne in the short to medium term (Russ and Alcala 2011). However, some of the conservation benefits of the GBR rezoning occurred surprisingly quickly; for example, in the GBRMP, the recovery of coral trout was observed after 1.5 to 2 yr (Russ et al. 2008). In the spatial context, conservation benefits often occur at a regional or global scale, whereas the costs collect at a local scale. Similarly, the costs and benefits in achieving development goals such as Reef-based employment or sustainable livelihoods may not match up at a given level, but even then it is not clear that costs and benefits will cancel out or that one group at a local level will not benefit at the expense of another (Smith et al. 2010). Thus, the lens of multiple goods, ecosystem services, and property rights can provide an approach for examining cross-scale linkages in SESs.

Second, our analysis indicates the importance of external drivers to the stability and proper functioning of SESs, even at the large spatial scale of GBRMP. External drivers such as land-based pollution, coastal development, climate change, and storms cannot be readily managed by MPA managers. Part of the problem, at least for regional threats and in MPAs affected by land-based effects, is that the property rights associated with goods and services on land tend to incentivize the provision of private over public goods, i.e., crops over unpolluted run-off, explaining some of the continued decline in coral cover across the Great Barrier Reef (Sweatman 2008, Hughes et al. 2011, Sweatman et al. 2011, De’ath et al. 2012). Interestingly, the threat to the GBRMP from external drivers, in particular coastal development, has caught the attention of the international community. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has no legislative rights over the GBRMP but has threatened to list the area as “World Heritage in danger” if coastal development policy is not systematically reviewed and strategically implemented (UNESCO 2012). In effect, this committee is leveraging informal institutions and the risk of lost revenues to the Queensland Reef-based tourism industry through the reduced value of cultural services and toll goods to advocate for more stringent regulation of coastal development in the region. As with our other contributions, we found that the lens of goods, ecosystem services, and property rights can facilitate identification of external influences on MPAs.

We have built on previous approaches to integrating property rights into protected area and resource management (Schlager and Ostrom 1992, Mascia and Claus 2009), yet several limitations of our study warrant acknowledgement. Our study is based on the extensive peer-reviewed and nonpeer-reviewed literature available on management of the GBRMP but does not include new data collection. Additional insights could likely be drawn if our study could have been augmented with primary data, especially interviews with actor groups over the course of the management changes. Furthermore, while much ecological data exist about the effectiveness of zones in the GBRMP (McCook et al. 2010, Harrison et al. 2012), no equivalent social monitoring existed until recently (National Environmental Research Program 2013). Thus, we were unable to provide quantitative metrics about how actors groups have been affected or have perceived the rezoning process.

Although our case study focused on the GBRMP, similar complexities in the interplay between goods, ecosystem services, and property rights are likely evident in all large-scale, multiple-use protected areas, both terrestrial and marine. The explicit examination of these concepts and how they are applied within protected areas serves to highlight the matches and mismatches between social and ecological components of complex systems and across scales. Recognizing the inherent limitations of the provision of each type of good, and the interactions among them, and evaluating actors’ incentives for the provision and use of goods and ecosystem services is crucial to effective, long-term governance of large-scale protected areas and rights-based management.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


We gratefully acknowledge input on a previous version of this manuscript by Forrest Fleischman and Graeme Cumming. We also thank Jon Day for constructive and insightful comments that much improved the manuscript. We also thank four anonymous reviewers for their suggestions, which greatly improved the paper. N. C. Ban received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Australian Research Council.


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Address of Correspondent:
Natalie C. Ban
School of Environmental Studies
University of Victoria
David Turpin Building, Room B250
PO Box 1700 STN CSC
Victoria BC Canada V8W 2Y2
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