Given the growing impact of human activities on the sea, managers are increasingly turning to marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect marine habitats and species. Many MPAs have been unsuccessful, however, and lack of income has been identified as a primary reason for failure. In this study, data from a global survey of 79 MPAs in 36 countries were analysed and attempts made to construct predictive models to determine the income requirements of any given MPA. Statistical tests were used to uncover possible patterns and relationships in the data, with two basic approaches. In the first of these, an attempt was made to build an explanatory "bottom-up" model of the cost structures that might be required to pursue various management activities. This proved difficult in practice owing to the very broad range of applicable data, spanning many orders of magnitude. In the second approach, a "top-down" regression model was constructed using logarithms of the base data, in order to address the breadth of the data ranges. This approach suggested that MPA size and visitor numbers together explained 46% of the minimum income requirements (P < 0.001), with area being the slightly more influential factor. The significance of area to income requirements was of little surprise, given its profile in the literature. However, the relationship between visitors and income requirements might go some way to explaining why northern hemisphere MPAs with apparently high incomes still claim to be under-funded. The relationship between running costs and visitor numbers has important implications not only in determining a realistic level of funding for MPAs, but also in assessing from where funding might be obtained. Since a substantial proportion of the income of many MPAs appears to be utilized for amenity purposes, a case may be made for funds to be provided from the typically better resourced government social and educational budgets as well as environmental budgets. Similarly visitor fees, already an important source of funding for some MPAs, might have a broader role to play in how MPAs are financed in the future. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.