This study presents an economic assessment of a potential national marine sanctuary around St. George Island, Alaska. St. George, the southern-most Pribilof Island, lies in the middle of the Bering Sea approximately 225 miles northwest of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands. The area around St. George is extremely biologically productive, supporting vast amounts of fish, marine mammals, and birds.
Due to a variety of causes, the natural resources important to the Native Unangan people of St. George have been steadily declining. These resources are essential for residents’ well-being, livelihood, and culture. One way to protect these resources is by implementing a national marine sanctuary to forge a path forward that safeguards critical natural resources while allowing sustainable uses. This report presents an assessment of the economic impacts and benefits of implementing a national marine sanctuary around St. George Island.
A National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) is a U.S. federal designation that protects a unique marine environment. To be designated as an NMS, a marine area must have ecological, scientific, cultural, historical, or educational significance. NMSs are managed to protect resources, and each has its own distinct management plan.
We assessed both market and non-market impacts of a potential national marine sanctuary using the benefit transfer method (i.e., in which existing data or information is used in settings other than that for what it was originally collected) and data on local markets. The following market impacts were assessed: employment, local spending, and commercial fisheries. Non-market impacts included subsistence harvests and other community assets, also known as ecosystem services.
Implementing a national marine sanctuary around St. George Island may have substantial effects on the local community, Alaska at large, and regions beyond Alaska. A national marine sanctuary could bring benefits such as:
· At least four full-time jobs
· $200,000 in annual government spending to support a sanctuary office
· $140,000 to $1 million in expenditures due to research grants
· $55,000 to $240,000 in annual recreation expenditures
· $22,000 to $44,000 in estimated subsistence harvest annually
· $2.8 billion to $3.3 billion in annual non-market ecosystem service benefits
Although this analysis pertains only to St. George Island, extending the sanctuary zone north to include St. Paul Island could create beneficial economic partnerships between the two communities. Finally, capitalizing on the tourism that may result from designating a sanctuary around the island could bring in big gains to the local economy. In light of this analysis, it is clear that additional monitoring, observation, and research should be implemented within the sanctuary zone.
St. George is a small community, and the natural resources its people depend on for survival are slowly disappearing. A sanctuary that aids in maintaining the resilience of the area would not only benefit St. George, but people throughout America. People are willing to pay for the knowledge that healthy and resilient ecosystems exist, an economic benefit called existence value. Ecosystems in Alaska have been shown to have immense existence value to Americans, and a sanctuary around such an enormously productive area would certainly provide existence benefits to people throughout the U.S. and even beyond.