There is increasing pressure to use currently untapped resources in the deep sea, raising questions regarding ecosystem service trade‐offs in these often unknown areas. We assessed the trade‐offs between protection of cold‐water coral reefs and economic activities, such as fisheries and petroleum extraction, through a survey of a representative sample of the populations of Norway and Ireland. Choice‐experiment surveys were conducted in workshop settings and through the internet. Both survey approaches provided some similar results, such as preferences for protection. Our cross‐country comparison showed the general public in Norway and Ireland was willing, despite possible conflict with extractive and consumptive economic activities in the deep sea, to protect cold‐water corals as habitat for fish. On average, people were willing to pay NKr 341 and NKr 424 for a small and large increase in protected areas respectively, and NKr 880 if the area is important habitat for fish, all else held equal. However, there was large variation across individuals and countries. Norwegian respondents valued pure existence of cold‐water corals more than the Irish respondents, and the latter were less willing to trade off industrial activities than the former. Nonetheless, the findings support conservation of cold‐water corals and more generally of ocean environments that provide habitat for fish, which the current deep sea governance systems are not adequately designed or sufficiently well‐structured to secure.
Header-image source: Institute for Marine Research