Making more of our MPAs

Zone effectiveness and connecting land and sea

The aim of my research has been to provide decision-support information that can be used in conjunction with local community expertise when developing conservation plans. The testing ground for my ideas has been Fiji, with the specific projects I ended up working on being heavily influenced by discussions with Stacy Jupiter, the Director of WCS Fiji.
A cornerstone of conservation planning at sea is the marine protected area or MPA. MPAs these days can have multiple zones in which different activities are allowed (or not allowed). For example, these zones might include no-take zones, partial protection zone, or no-commercial­fishing zones. Zoning is the spatial distribution of various types of management areas and they have been used to great effect all around the world, for example marine zoning has been applied in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia, California in the United States and Raja Ampat in Indonesia.

Zone effectiveness

Azusa Makino was a PhD student at University of Queensland, supervised by Hugh Possingham, Maria Beger, and Carissa Klein. She also advanced methods for spatial prioritisation by addressing connections in space (ie, between land and sea) and time (ie, between the present and future). The integrated planning considered connections between the land and the sea was also conducted in Fiji, collaborating with the Wildlife Conservation Society Fiji.

Azusa Makino was a PhD student at University of Queensland, supervised by Hugh Possingham, Maria Beger, and Carissa Klein. She also advanced methods for spatial prioritisation by addressing connections in space (ie, between land and sea) and time (ie, between the present and future). The integrated planning considered connections between the land and the sea was also conducted in Fiji, collaborating with the Wildlife Conservation Society Fiji.

Zone effectiveness relates to how much one zone contributes to reaching the overall conservation goals. Management regulations across zones have differing levels of zone effectiveness for biodiversity protection. For example, if the conservation goal is to protect 30% of the fringing reef habitat, the no-take zone will contribute more than the partial-protection zone to achieve the goal. However, if we do not take into account zone effectiveness, it might be assumed that a similar area of the partial-protection zone and the no-take zone will contribute the same to achieving this goal. Unfortunately, little attention has been given to the zone effectiveness in spatial prioritisation. Thus, our first project was to explore how priority areas might change if we take into account the zone effectiveness of different zones (Makino et al., 2013a). Our study area was the Vatu-i-Ra seascape. This seascape lies between Fiji’s two main islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, and in this region the local people were developing a conservation plan with support from WCS.

Vatu-i-Ra is believed to be a high priority for conservation because it was identified as an important area for endemic fish and coral reefs. What’s more, it’s believed to be an area with high resilience having the ability to recover from severe bleaching events.

Zone effectiveness scores were previously estimated by experts. The effectiveness score ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 is completely ineffective and 1 is 100% effective. In this project, we considered three zones: (1) permanent closure (2) partial protection, and (3) open. We assumed that permanent closure zones are fully effective at protecting biodiversity, whereas open zones do not contribute towards the conservation goals. Partial protection zones lie somewhere in between.

We found that when zone effectiveness for different zones were the same, high priority areas for some zones were dismissed. We also tried to distribute the loss of fishing opportunity equitably among local communities. As a result, we found that 84–88% of each traditional fishing ground can be left open for fishing while still meeting conservation goals. These results suggest that it is important to consider the zone effectiveness so that we will not miss high priority areas which could be important in achieving conservation goals. Furthermore, it is still possible to have almost the same areas of conservation zones between local communities. In addition, conservation goals can still be achieved while still leaving large open areas.

We also proposed guidelines to consider zone effectiveness when developing a marine zoning that: (1) list activities allowed in each zone, (2) decide which zones should be included, (3) assess the zone effectiveness, (4) decide how much of each feature should be represented in each type of zone, and (5) calculate or estimate the cost of zones.

Connecting land and sea

The second project I worked on aimed to describe an integrated approach for coral reef conservation that considers the connections between the land and the sea. Coral reefs are threatened not only by sea-based activities such as fishing, but also by land-based activities such as deforestation. Therefore, placing coral reefs inside a reserve is not necessarily enough to save it. Unfortunately, spatial prioritisation rarely considers connections between ecosystems.

In this project, we demonstrated an integrated approach for coral reef conservation with the objective of prioritising MPAs close to catchments with high forest cover (Makino et al., 2013b). Our aim was to facilitate ecological processes that rely on an intact land-sea protected area connection thereby minimising negative impacts of land-based runoff onto coral reefs.

Our study region was Vanua Levu, where comprehensive data for land-sea connections do not exist. To deal with this we developed and applied simple models of connections between terrestrial and marine ecosystems that require little data. In addition, we incorporated different types of connectivity models into spatial prioritisation that represent: (1) adjacent connections in the sea, (2) land-sea connections in both directions (ie, the land to the sea, the sea to the land), and (3) landsea connections with one direction from the land to the sea. We then calculated the opportunity costs for the land and the sea, separately. What we found was that priority areas change when the land-sea connections are considered as compared with a plan that ignored the connections. We also demonstrated that integrated planning can be facilitated with very little difference in costs compared to a plan that ignored connections.

Our results showed that integrated planning is not necessarily expensive compared to a plan for a single ecosystem. In addition, if the conservation features (eg, species) are influenced by multiple ecosystems, a conservation plan needs to consider them and not just focus on a single ecosystem. Our approaches were simple, but they can be easily applied at different scales and locations.

The research was done at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Of course, this is quite distant from Fiji. Stacy Jupiter provided us with a lot of information and opinions to reflect the values of local Fijians. This was important to our analysis. It was a great opportunity to work with a local NGO. We could not have done these studies without them providing us data and local information.

Our projects did not directly influence the Fiji’s conservation plans, it was more of a theoretical exercise designed to demonstrate what was possible. However, I still remember that when I presented our results to a stakeholders meeting, local people were listening carefully and some people came to me after the talk to say thank you. While our projects were somewhat theoretical, they also demonstrated the importance of factoring in different dimensions of the conservation problem. I’m hopeful that they will contribute to better biodiversity outcomes in Fiji.


More info: Azusa Makino azusamakino@gmail.com

References

Makino A, CJ Klein, M Beger, SD Jupiter & HP Possingham (2013a). Incorporating Conservation Zone Effectiveness for Protecting Biodiversity in Marine Planning. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78986. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078986

Makino A, M Beger, CJ Klein, SD Jupiter & HP Possingham (2013b). Integrated planning for land–sea ecosystem connectivity to protect coral reefs. Biological Conservation 165: 35-42.

 

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