New Tools for Marine Conservation: the Leasing and Ownership of Submerged Lands


Oct. 2004


Beck, MW
Marsh, TD
Reisewitz, SE
Bortman, ML

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It has been assumed that strategies for estuarine and marine conservation must be substantially different than those for terrestrial conservation because the seas are all publicly owned. This is an unfortunate misconception. We explored the leasing and ownership of submerged lands as tools for marine conservation and provide examples of the implementation of these tools from The Nature Conservancys work in Texas, Washington, and New York (U.S.A.). We found that the leasing and ownership of submerged lands are viable new tools for marine conservation. There is a significant amount of submerged land available for lease and ownership in the United States and other countries that includes a diverse array of ecosystems (e.g., kelp forests, marshes, seagrass meadows, oyster reefs, tidal flats, clam beds, scallop beds, sponge, and coral reefs). From our review of policy and experience in practice, we have identified some key benefits and considerations for the use of these tools. Conservation benefits for the leasing and ownership of submerged lands include opportunities to restore ecologically and economically important species, protect diversity in sanctuaries, draw on substantial terrestrial experience in leasing and ownership, buy land cheaply, develop ecologically sustainable harvest practices, partner with fishers and local communities to improvewater quality, create control areas for research, and partake in local management forums as a direct stakeholder. Bivalve shellfish are particularly amenable to conservation with these tools because existing policy is well established for leasing and ownership rights to sessile animals that exist on the sea floor. Conservation buyers need to consider that community sentiment does not always favor private rights to submerged lands, conservation interest in submerged lands could affect prices, association with incompatible aquaculture practices will be detrimental, enforcement of restrictions can be difficult, and theremay be concerns about setting the precedent of paying for conservation of submerged lands. Policy makers should be encouraged to include more opportunities for conservation and not just exploitation of natural resources on submerged land leases.


pgs. 1214-1223


concessions, land acquisition, protected areas, shellfish, submerged lands