Systematic conservation assessments for marine protected areas in New South Wales, Australia

Breen, Daniel A. (2007) Systematic conservation assessments for marine protected areas in New South Wales, Australia. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

Science and planning for marine conservation is a complex, cross-disciplinary task. Marine conservation involves many objectives and there is much uncertainty in how ecosystems and their human populations behave. It is therefore important for environmental managers to access the best available information and expertise and to support research that improves conservation outcomes.

This thesis demonstrates through several case studies, how the systematic use of information, decision support tools and consultation can be used to identify sites for marine protected areas (MPAs) and plan for future research. The studies differ in their immediate goals and the information available. All however, benefit from linking explicit objectives to spatial databases and tools that allow scientists, managers and communities to explore and evaluate management scenarios using realistic data.

C-Plan, Marxan, Multiple Criteria Analysis and a Geographic Information System (GIS) atlas of 35 data sets are used to identify comprehensive, adequate and representative systems of MPAs throughout the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The studies identify many potential locations for MPAs in the Manning, Hawkesbury, Batemans and Twofold Shelf marine bioregions and provide information and tools to implement these options. Two of these options have now been established and zoned as large, multiple use marine parks near Port Stephens and Batemans Bay. Decisions have yet to be made on options for a third large marine park in the Hawkesbury Shelf bioregion.

Potential locations for MPAs were identified from a review of MPA network design theory and criteria derived from national identification and selection guidelines. The proposed options for multiple use marine parks aimed to include representative and complementary examples of biodiversity surrogates defined for ‘ecosystems’ (five estuary types and three ocean depth zones) and ‘habitat’ types (mangrove, saltmarsh, seagrass, rocky shore, beach, reef and island). MPAs were also selected to include important sites for threatened Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus), fishes, birds, mammals, wetlands and other values. Criteria with unique conservation values had a greater influence in identifying specific locations for MPAs. However, almost all options scored highly for a wide range of different criteria and contributed features to complement the overall value of the MPA network.

Options for large marine parks were selected to include the highest complementary conservation values in continuous sections of coast, estuary and ocean. However, many other smaller sites outside of these parks were identified for their high conservation values. These could be included within smaller local MPAs, within other marine parks or at least be targeted by other conservation strategies.

Where possible, locations were chosen that adjoined sections of coast and catchment with a high degree of protection in terrestrial protected areas and low levels of urban, industrial and agricultural land use. However, in the more populated regions, many distinctive areas of high conservation value were found near urban and industrial developments. Management for these areas is therefore all the more urgent and still requires attention.

Once a marine park in NSW is declared, a zone plan is required to allocate various levels of protection. These include highly protected ‘no-take’ sanctuary zones, habitat protection zones where recreational fishing is permitted and general use zones that allow some forms of commercial fishing. Broad scale bioregional assessments helped identify the general location of the Cape Byron Marine Park and assisted in initial planning. However, additional finer scale ecological, social and economic data were required to zone different levels of protection within the park. Detailed sidescan sonar, underwater video, aerial photography, field studies and community surveys were therefore commissioned and used to map ecological, social, and economic values.

C-Plan, Marxan and interactive GIS were then used with community workshops to develop plans that addressed conservation goals while minimising impacts on commercial, recreational and cultural interests. While a consensus among community representatives was not achieved for all areas, a plan for the park was developed that represented a range of conservation values in different zones while allowing for different human activities. This two stage approach combines broad and fine scale assessments in a cost effective way to quickly obtain reliable data for large areas of coast and ocean.

The assessments also demonstrate the value of uniting information and expertise from scientists, managers and communities in practical, science based approaches to ecosystem management. Initial proposals for NSW and previously for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, indicated that very little data would be available for these systematic marine conservation assessments. However, in both cases the number of useful data sets was greater than expected and provided convincing support for decision making. Many sites scored strongly for many different important values and while there was some duplication among similar data sets, this corroboration provided additional checks against uncertainty.

Collating, formatting and analysing many data sets is a specialised, labour intensive task. However, this cost is only a small fraction of the time and effort that goes into consultation and administration. Therefore, despite the effort involved, systematic assessments that provide a solid foundation of evidence are likely to reduce the overall time required in negotiations to establish MPAs. The MPAs established after the assessments in this thesis were substantial, and were implemented within a relatively short time span. This suggests that a systematic, information based approach is cost effective when compared to the more ad hoc approaches used previously in these regions and elsewhere.

The hierarchical approach used to map marine ecosystems and their components was applied at several different spatial scales and at varying levels of complexity. This environmental classification provided a comprehensive and cost effective way to describe large areas where only basic information was available. However, it also provided a nested framework to accommodate more detailed information and targeted research without necessarily biasing decisions towards only well studied locations. The hierarchical exploration of goals, criteria and measures through multiple criteria analyses encouraged a more thorough exploration of objectives and highlighted where more research was required. These gaps included offshore subtidal habitats, variation in species assemblages, the nature of ecological processes among marine and adjacent terrestrial ecosystems, and the impacts and values of human activities. The level of knowledge in these fields is encouraging at a theoretical level and for specific, well studied sites. However, it is still difficult to generalise this information to the scale of whole ecosystems and regions. While techniques to map and model large ecological systems are increasingly available and affordable, better support and coordination for this work would benefit all aspects of marine research and management.

The different GIS based decision support tools used to integrate complex data sets and assess alternative MPA networks were all highly effective. All provided similar results, indeed data input, goal selection, reserve design and planning unit size and shape appeared to have a greater influence on results than the particular tool used. As these readily available and easily used tools tend to have different complementary strengths, it may, therefore, be more important to use at least one or preferably more than one tool, rather than dwelling on whether one particular approach is superior.

C-Plan was useful in providing a rapid statistical assessment of irreplaceability under changing scenarios of different targets, data and the selection or exclusion of planning units. This made it a useful ‘hands on’ tool for participatory conservation planning. Marxan provided a flexible and powerful tool for goal oriented reserve design with the ability to include criteria for reserve size, spatial aggregation, replication and other aspects of reserve configuration. Both were able to incorporate costs specified as areas or percentages of ocean occupied by MPAs or as more complex, customised estimates of social and economic impacts on fishing and other competing activities.

Unlike C-Plan and Marxan, the multiple criteria models built in Criterium Decision Plus did not inherently take into account the complementarity of sites in contributing towards conservation targets. However, this method was able to integrate previously calculated estimates of irreplaceability from CPlan with over 60 other quantitative and qualitative measures for alternative sites in a hierarchically structured tree of MPA goals, priorities and scores. This tool also provided a way to assess sites according to varying priorities provided by different individual users.

These decision support tools employ relatively sophisticated techniques which continue to undergo development. The assessments explore only part of this potential but the information presented here can be easily re-analysed with new data, priorities and issues in marine research and management. The key element enabling these possibilities is the use of GIS to spatially integrate, manipulate and display this information.

MPAs are not the only way to manage and understand marine ecosystems. However, multiple use MPAs, in particular, are ideal venues to test and refine realistic hypotheses about marine ecosystems and their management. The geographic models and methods described in this thesis provide the spatial foundation on which to develop and design tests for such hypotheses. They are powerful tools to integrate diverse information and to model the potential effects of management interventions under varying scenarios. They therefore represent an important opportunity to channel the results of individual research projects into an wider, systematic and adaptive approach to ecosystem science and management.

Item ID: 2039
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: marine conservation, environmental management, decision support tools, consultation, marine protected areas, C-Plan, Marxan, Multiple Criteria Analysis, Geographic Information Systems, GIS, New South Wales, Manning Shelf, Hawkesbury Shelf, Batemans Shelf, Twofold Shelf, marine parks, Port Stephens, Batemans Bay, MPA network design theory, conservation strategies, zone plans, sanctuary zones, habitat protection zones, fisheries, Cape Byron Marine Park, ecological values, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, environmental classification, multiple criteria analyses, Criterium Decision Plus, policy planning, environmental policy, biodiversity, Australia
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2008 02:16
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050209 Natural Resource Management @ 0%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 0%
07 AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY SCIENCES > 0704 Fisheries Sciences > 070403 Fisheries Management @ 0%
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