There is a controversy in the literature on marine protected areas (MPAs) over the way their outcomes are portrayed in terms of winners and losers. On the one hand, many analysts have portrayed MPAs as win-win solutions, resulting in both increased biodiversity and improved livelihoods. On the other hand, some analysts have argued that win-win outcomes are mythical, and in practice, MPAs invariably result in trade-offs between ecological and economic objectives.

This study aimed to test which of these two hypotheses fits the Cabo de Palos Islas Hormigas marine protected area in southeast Spain by analyzing the tensions between four groups of stakeholders (fishers, divers, community residents, and administrators) which map on to the tensions between ecological and economic goals. The analysis was based on 111 interviews of key informants.

The results show that winning and losing are very complex and ambiguous categories. The authors state that: there is no objective way of determining who are winners and losers; that the situation of winners and losers is due to human intervention rather than a natural and inevitable process; that win-win outcomes are implausible because of trade-offs between wins and losses are inevitable; and that political authorities have to decide who will be the winners and who will be the losers.

Hogg et al. (2019) Interpretations of MPA winners and losers: a case study of the Cabo de Palos-Islas Hormigas Fisheries Reserve. Maritime Studies 18:159-171.