In the Wider Caribbean a variety of financing mechanisms have been used for MPAs including government subvention, international assistance, individual donations, commercial and bilateral debt swaps and trust funds. None of these mechanisms though implement the principle that the direct beneficiaries of protected areas should contribute to the recovery of operating costs. This is encapsulated in the levying of charges ' most frequently referred to as 'user fees' ' on those who accrue benefits from the MPA. Equity is therefore a major attraction of user fees and the principle challenge is to devise a system which sets a fair value on uses and services, and generates acceptable net returns. Many organisations and protected areas have begun with a single type of user fee and gradually developed a more diverse fee structure to the point that a substantial income can be generated.
Outside of Florida there are more than two hundred marine protected areas in the Caribbean and Central America which contain coral reefs and are therefore theoretically attractive to scuba divers. In the same region there are 750 dive operators. A recent study surveyed almost 20% of these dive operators across 30 countries for their use of MPAs.
The majority of dive operators are located within 20 km of at least one MPA and 46% conduct at least 80% of their diving within a MPA. An estimated 15 million dives take place outside of Florida each year, half of these occurring inside MPAs. Only 25% of MPAs containing coral reefs charge divers an entry or user fee, which is most usually USD2-3 levied per dive or per diver. The study estimated the revenue generated by these fees at USD1-2 million annually, but stated that the potential for generating income has not been fully realised. A significant contribution to the cost of regional conservation could be achieved if higher fees were applied more widely than at present.