Nature-based tourism is a fundamental driver of the viability of some communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and, given the importance of whale watching as an attractor of visitors to the province, whale conservation is a key ingredient in the policies that promote tourism in the province. The efficient management of whales involves a balance of relevant social benefits with social costs. Therefore, in order to decide to which extent it is efficient to sacrifice resources for the protection of whales, the benefits whales provide must be somehow estimated.
The estimation of the values of whales that visit the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador, an essential ingredient in the design of public policies related to whale preservation, was the objective of this study. Since no market mechanism exists for people to reveal these types of values, a method that uses non-price (non-market) data is required. Here, a commonly used method, known as contingent valuation, was used. It involves a survey that describes a particular policy and its effects on the resource valued, suggests a way for the respondent to support the policy, and finally tries to elicit how much respondents are willing to pay to support it. The ultimate objective is to estimate the respondents’ willingness to pay for the proposed benefits of the policy, and from that extrapolate how much they value the resource.
The data used to estimate the willingness to pay were collected through a phone survey administered to a sample of adult Canadians by a professional survey research centre. The final sample consisted of 614 usable responses. The questionnaire included the description of a plausible, although hypothetical, whale conservation policy.
Statistical procedures that took into account the indirect way in which respondents were asked about their willingness to pay to support whale conservation were applied to estimate the value derived from the proposed whale conservation policy, and, by extension, from whale conservation in Newfoundland and Labrador. These techniques also allowed us to investigate how the individual valuation is affected by factors like respondent certainty about their response to the valuation question, payment vehicle proposed (tax or donation), scope of the conservation policy proposed, income, age, geographical location, education levels, previous experience with whales, attitudes towards environmental conservation, and awareness of the conservation issues affecting whales in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The results obtained (when considering the effect of uncertainty in the individuals’ responses) suggest a mean individual willingness to pay of $80.69 per year for the next five years for this policy. This value could be understood as the value the average adult Canadian in the sample places on whale conservation in Canada or perhaps even whales in general, since whales are such a mobile resource. We extrapolated the individual mean annual willingness to pay from the analysis of our sample to a population of 23,939,993 Canadian adults and obtain an aggregate willingness to pay of $1,939,139,433. However, under conservative assumptions, the central estimate would be $446,002,070 per year for the next five years. This figure represents a substantial benefit from the conservation of these marine mammals.
The results of the project will contribute to improving the knowledge of the value Canadians place on some of the most iconic natural resources Newfoundland and Labrador offers and thus facilitate the design of management policies which work towards a socially efficient allocation of these resources. By providing information not currently existing about the orders of magnitude of economic values of whales, these results will facilitate the development of efficient policies that promote the ecotourism potential of whale watching in Newfoundland and Labrador and of other polices that involve impacts on whale populations, such as regulations of oil and gas off-shore developments and of fishing operations.