Quantifying the Recreational Value of an Estuary: A Transferable Method

Coastal water quality impairment (excess bacteria and nutrients) due to failed septic systems and cesspools is a major concern for Cape Cod, Massachusetts because of its waters’ high economic and social value. High bacteria levels can lead to closures at bathing beaches. Nutrient over-enrichment is not directly harmful to those in contact with degraded water, but can affect recreational experiences through changes in water clarity, macroalgae, and more. Estuaries can be greatly affected by both bacteria and nutrients, and these sheltered areas provide a range of recreational opportunities to those who visit. The Three Bays estuary system is a widely-used recreational area in the town of Barnstable, MA that has been classified as an impaired waterbody by the Massachusetts Estuaries Program. Like many sheltered embayments, in Three Bays it is unknown how many people use the area for recreation at various public access points along the shoreline. Unlike larger coastal beaches, no parking data are collected for the recreation access points in Three Bays. In order to estimate monetary values for recreational uses, and the losses from closures and other impairments, both a dollar value per person per day and the number of people who use affected areas are needed. While dollar values per recreation day may be estimated using methods of benefit transfer applied to existing studies, the number of affected people is needed in order to apply those values. We developed an approach to quantify recreational use of the Three Bays estuary for a summer season (June – August), using a sampling plan and statistical relationships to extrapolate visitation to places where data are not collected. This presentation will describe the methods we used to quantify recreation for the estuary and our use of existing valuation data to estimate the total use and value of recreation in Three Bays for the peak season.