Non-Market Valuation

Valuing Marine Mammals in Patagonia, Argentina


Stephanie Stefanski surveying Argentine visitors to the Peninsula Valdes, Argentina

This study develops a unique contingent valuation survey to determine the relative value of several marine mammals and a travel cost method to value the World Heritage Site Península Valdés in Patagonia, Argentina. During June – October 2013, I collected 750 surveys, 400 of which were in Spanish with Argentine visitors, to determine willingness to pay for different marine mammal species. I managed a team of five local interviewers to assist in data collection.

The valuation survey asks people to pay for boat trips to see different species which happens to mirror the actual decisions people must make once they get to the site. The realism of this question avoids hypothetical biases that plague previous studies.

The Península Valdés site in Patagonia, Argentina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and harbors southern right whales (Eubalaena australis), killer whales (Orcinus orca), southern sea lions (Otaria flavescens), southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina), and Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus). In 2013, over 250,000 national and over 40,000 international visitors traveled to the Peninsula. The site offers an excellent opportunity to explore the value of marine parks as well as to distinguish the relative value of viewing each species.

The tourism industry, dependent on wildlife viewing opportunities near and around Península Valdés, is an important component of community welfare, tourism, and development in the Patagonian region. However, the changing landscape and development of Patagonia necessitates resource management decisions that account for economic values relevant to different industries and society at large.

Stefanski, S. and S. Villasante. 2015. “Whales vs. Gulls: Assessing Trade-offs in Wildlife and Waste Management in Patagonia, Argentina.” Ecosystem Services 16: 294-305.

Stefanski, S. 2013.  “Integrating Tourism, Conservation, and Development: Perspectives from International and Domestic Tourists in Península Valdés (Patagonia), Argentina.” Tropical Resources Institute 32-33, 78-86.

Manuscripts in Preparation 

Stefanski, S. and R.H. von Haefen. “Using Aggregate Counts to Improve Policy Inference from On-Site Samples: An Application to the Peninsula Valdes World Heritage Site in Argentina.”

Economic Valuation of Marine Biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico


Stephanie Stefanski dives with a manta ray in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary while pre-testing her survey with recreational divers.

This study explores U.S. residents’ willingness to pay, a measure of overall social value, for increasing marine biodiversity protection in the Gulf of Mexico. The study applies contemporary contingent valuation (CV) techniques to elicit respondents’ willingness to pay for marine sanctuaries that enhance biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico. We survey a sample of 1000 participants constructed to be representative of the U.S. population. We use double-bounded dichotomous-choice questions that assess if respondents would vote for or against a hypothetical – yet realistic – program that would designate new marine sanctuaries if the cost to their household was some fixed amount.

Quantitative contingent valuation results indicated that the average US resident expressed a significantly positive willingness to pay for expanding marine preservation in the Gulf of Mexico.

We believe our results contribute to economics and policy in at least two ways. First, our final willingness to pay figures provide direct estimates of social benefits from new or expanded marine preserves in the Gulf. These results are especially timely, as the policy scenario presented in our CV study is based on a current NOAA proposal to expand marine preserves in the Gulf of Mexico.

Second, our sample is nationally representative. Nationally policy decisions should be informed by comparing national benefits to national costs. We find that willingness to pay, perhaps driven by passive use values, is actually higher away from the Gulf coast region.

Our results are currently referenced in the NOAA Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Stefanski, S. and J.P. Shimshack. 2016. “Valuing Marine Biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico: Evidence from the Proposed Boundary Expansion of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.” Marine Resource Economics 31(2).

Stefanski, S. and J.P. Shimshack. Poster: Economic Valuation of Marine Biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico. 4th National Forum on Socioeconomic Research in Coastal Systems. Center of Natural Resource Economics & Policy. New Orleans, LA. March 2013.

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