Linking regional and national coral reef conservation goals

Multi-objective hotspots and complementary super-spots in the Coral Triangle


KEY MESSAGES:
  • Collaboration between Coral Triangle nations makes good sense
  • The challenge is to work out how regional priorities can be incorporated into national decisions
  • Establishing new MPAs in multi-objective hotspots provides good benefits for all six regional objectives simultaneously

 

A sea cucumber found in the Coral Triangle. One of the goals of the conservation planning was to maximise the larval dispersal for highly valued sea cucumbers. (Photo by Sun Wook Kim)

A sea cucumber found in the Coral Triangle. One of the goals of the
conservation planning was to maximise the larval dispersal for highly valued sea cucumbers. (Photo by Sun Wook Kim)

Defining management actions for marine conservation often involves coordinating the actions of multiple jurisdictions to achieve shared goals. Our recent study in Nature Communications introduces a new framework for how this might be achieved in the Coral Triangle (Beger et al, 2015), a region in Southeast Asia containing around 500 coral species, 3,000 reef fish species, and harbouring the world’s largest area of mangroves. Indeed, the region is the world’s centre of marine biodiversity (see Decision Point #49).

Collaboration makes good sense. If neighbouring countries share common conservation goals then agreeing on how to meet those goals enables the sharing of resources.

The challenge is to work out how regional priorities can be incorporated in these national decisions. In our analysis, we worked with the Coral Triangle Initiative to map out common goals for coral reef biodiversity, sustainable fisheries and food security, goals that are shared by Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (the six member countries of the Coral Triangle Initiative) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: A map of the Coral Triangle region with the six countries involved. The areas marked represent the places which would maximise conservation benefits for a range of objectives.

Figure 1: A map of the Coral Triangle region with the six countries involved. The areas marked represent the places which would maximise conservation benefits for a range of objectives.

Our work sought to incorporate regional priorities into national decisions. Specifically, we evaluated trade-offs that arise when we use a number of Coral Triangle Initiative objectives to identify places where marine protected areas (MPAs) would be most beneficial.

The objectives we used were to: (1) represent all habitat types, (2) protect fish spawning aggregations, (3) improve the status of threatened sea turtles, (4 and 5) maximise larval dispersal connectivity for coral trout and sea cucumbers, and (6) protect places less affected by climate change.

Using Marxan, we developed two conservation strategies that nations can apply as part of a coordinated multi-lateral collaboration: protecting multi-objective hotspots and protecting complementary top priority areas, super-spots (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Conceptual diagram of how two strategies of allocating conservation effort can link planning goals at national and regional scales.

Figure 2: Conceptual diagram of how two strategies of allocating conservation effort can link planning goals at national and regional scales.

Establishing new MPAs in multi-objective hotspots would provide good conservation benefits for all six objectives at the same time. Establishing new MPAs in complementary top priority areas would provide high conservation benefit for one or two of the objectives. When employing this second strategy, countries need to coordinate regionally when targetting the best places for different objectives to ensure protection of complementary areas for all of the objectives.

Collaboration in the Coral Triangle isn’t just about maximising conservation benefits, it’s also about securing fishery resources for people and village livelihoods. (Photo by Maria Beger)

Collaboration in the Coral Triangle isn’t just about maximising conservation benefits, it’s also about securing fishery resources for people and village livelihoods. (Photo by Maria Beger)

Concentrating efforts for protection in places where multiple conservation benefits can be achieved simultaneously is obviously appealing. However, it is not always politically equitable or ecologically appropriate. Not all countries have multi–objective hotspots, so focusing on this strategy alone concentrates the conservation burden and benefits unfairly.

Also, conserving only hotspots cannot maximize conservation benefits for all of the objectives. For example, consider ‘very important areas’ to protect turtles are in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Even though PNG might not have the conservation resources that other countries in the Initiative have, they can contribute to regional commitments by working in one of the turtle top-priority areas.

And, on the topic of turtles, for the first time we also had access to the migration routes of turtles in the Coral Triangle, thanks to the data provided by various groups in the region. We created a map of how each area connects with each other, and are using it to determine the number of turtles that travel between the different reefs – all 17,000 of them.

Working together to protect the multi‐objective hotspots or complementary areas will also help protect fishermen and village livelihoods. Consider fish larvae as an example. They can drift to areas as far as 500 kilometres away from where they were spawned.

It’s quite a distance, and it means that fishers in one country – Indonesia, for instance – will benefit from good fish spawning stocks in another country, such as the Philippines, and vice versa. This is why strategic collaboration amongst countries is crucial.

And while this analysis obviously has direct relevance to possible planning decisions in the Coral Triangle, the framework can be applied anywhere. It can be adapted to guide conservation investments worldwide where countries are committed to multi‐national goals, but implement conservation actions independently.


Process-based planning with Marxan

Our analysis used Marxan (www.uq.edu.au/marxan) and developed several new operational mechanisms:

1. Fish spawning aggregations occur in certain points, but fish travel to the sites from afar. We represented this onto-genetic movement by aiming to protect 50% of 20km catchments.

2. Turtle data for nesting beaches and foraging areas were recorded as points, and we applied a 20km buffer and aimed to protect 50% of these turtle areas.

3. Telemetry tracks for around 150 individual turtles were used to create accumulated connectivity matrices. This new method adds links between pairs of planning units when an animal moved between them to create a connectivity matrix for all turtles to use in Marxan with Connectivity. (Also, see the story on page 10)

4. Larval connectivity trade-offs between multiple species were included for the first time (compare dp link to connectivity.)

5. Climate change impacts were modeled as the rate of decline experienced by ‘typical’ coral species given future temperature and alkalinity regimes.


More info: Maria Beger m.beger@uq.edu.au

This project is a collaboration of CEED, the Coral Triangle Initiative, The Nature Conservancy, WWF, NOAA, the UQ Marine Spatial Ecology Lab, Science and Conservation of Fish Aggregations (SCRFA), and the Coral Triangle Atlas.

Reference

Beger M, J McGowan, EA Treml, AL Green, AT White, NH Wolff, CJ Klein, PJ Mumby and HP Possingham (2015). Integrating regional conservation priorities for multiple objectives into national policy. Nature Communications 6. http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150914/ncomms9208/full/ncomms9208.html

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