Willingness to Pay in Rocky Intertidal Ecosystems in Orange County, California


Southern California has many rocky intertidal marine reserves; most of these reserves have been in existence for over 30 years. Although removal of organisms is prohibited in such reserve areas, researchers have shown that a lack of signage and enforcement has led to very low levels of compliance. The result is a deterioration of the rocky intertidal zone.

Courtesy: Gulf of the Farallones NMS

To prevent further deterioration of the rocky intertidal ecosystems, enforcement of the regulations prohibiting organism removal would be necessary. Such implementation would have associated costs.

To determine if the value to users is greater than, or at least as much as, the cost to protect the resource from further damage, researchers from California State University in Orange County, California, asked users how much they would be willing to pay to protect it, a method called contingent valuation.

Methods, Tools, and Data

Comparative Research

Users were surveyed to determine the estimated "willingness to pay" to protect the rocky intertidal zone in Orange County. These results were then compared with the research on other beaches, both in California and in other states. In the comparison research, the season, the overall condition of the beach, and the types of activities that take place on the beach were considered.

These data helped determine the validity of the results obtained in Orange County by demonstrating that willingness to pay for results in Orange County was consistent with travel-demand results at other California beaches that shared many characteristics.

NonMarket Valuation
Researchers had to determine how much more users believed a visit to the beach was worth in monetary terms if the tide pools were protected. Because visits to the beach are not bought or sold, market data on the value of such visits do not exist. For this reason, researchers used a nonmarket valuation technique to estimate the value of visits to the beach. They interviewed 220 people from April 1998 to April 2000 in nine different rocky intertidal zones in Orange County.

Interviewers began by asking participants if they would be willing to pay a predetermined value between $2 and $100 to visit the resource. If participants answered yes to the proposed value (for example, $2), the amount would be doubled (i.e., $4) and they would be asked again. If participants answered no to the original value ($2), the amount would be halved ($1) and participants would be asked the question again. Each participant was only asked twice; the starting value differed across participants. The willingness to pay for visits to the beach, as stated by participants, was used to estimate the value of such visits.

Discussion of Results

Researchers estimated that visitors would be willing to pay $6 more per visit per day to access the beach if the tide pools were protected. This number compares to prior studies in the same area, which estimated the value of a visit to be between $9.94 and $10.58 per visit per day.

However, applying the estimated fee ($6 per visit per day) to the total estimated number of visitors (1.57 million per year) results in an estimated value of $3.6 to $4.8 million per mile of coastline per year.


  • This project was conducted by Darwin Hall, dhall@csulb.edu; Jane Hall, jhall@fullerton.edu; and Steven Murray, smurray@fullerton.edu.

    Hall, Darwin C., Jane V. Hall, and Steven N. Murray. 2002. "Contingent Valuation of Marine Protected Areas: Southern California Rocky Intertidal Ecosystems." Natural Resource Modeling. Volume 15, Number 3, Pages 335 to 368; Available at www.csulb.edu/~dhall/.

    Legislative Council of California. California Fish and Game Code Section 8500. Regulations related to removal of organisms from tide pools.

    Murray, Steven N., Teri Gibson Denis, Janine S. Kido, and Jayson R. Smith. 1999. "Human Visitation and the Frequency and Potential Effects of Collecting on Rocky Intertidal Populations in Southern California Marine Reserves." California Oceanic Cooperative Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) Reports. Volume 40. Pages 100 to 106.

    NOAA Coastal Services Center. "Drop that Crab! Deputies Patrol Tide Pools in California." Coastal Services. September/October 2001.