But a Fiji case study shows it is possible
Most managers understand how ‘downstream’ ecosystems such as coral reefs can be impacted by activities on the land. Forestry and agriculture, for example, can increase runoff, turbidity, nutrients and chemicals, all of which can have adverse impacts on coral ecosystems. Yet, despite this appreciation, there are very few examples where protected area networks have been designed using truly integrated planning to minimize such threats. Well, I’m happy to report that just such an approach is being applied in Fiji. Not bad for a small-island developing state.
In the past the selection of terrestrial protected areas in Fiji has mostly been ad hoc. It’s been based more on the cultural or timber value of forests than on any commitment to biodiversity conservation. Fiji’s current terrestrial protected areas, which cover less than 3% of the land, are inadequate in protecting Fiji’s sensitive island habitats, and do little to minimize runoff to adjacent coral reefs.
In 2008, a national Protected Area Committee (PAC) was created by the Fiji Government. This was done in part to achieve the goals of protecting 20% of the country’s land and 30% of its coastal waters by the year 2020. The PAC began its work by identifying gaps in the existing protected area network and then prioritising areas for addition to the protected area estate.
To support this prioritisation process, we developed a model to identify where Fiji could get the best return on investment for forest conservation to minimize downstream runoff to coral reefs (Klein et al. 2012; the model was developed as part of an NCEAS working group on Decision-Making in the Coral Triangle, see Decision Point #44). In other words, where were the cheapest places to protect forests that influence water quality on the greatest amount of adjacent coral reef. This was not just an academic exercise as I serve as an NGO member on the PAC and can directly input into PAC decision-making processes.
The work was done as a collaboration with colleagues from the University of Queensland, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and Conservation International
After presenting the results of our initial land-sea model to the PAC, the general feedback was along the lines of: “That’s nice for the marine systems, but what about our terrestrial habitat targets?”
So we went back to work. We systematically analyzed six scenarios for expanding Fiji’s network of terrestrial protected area networks, with the aim to uncover how well each approach did to protect different target vegetation types and minimize land-based runoff to downstream coral reefs. One scenario evaluated included priority forests for conservation that the PAC had already identified based on field data and rules of thumb.
We were pleased to find that the forests that the PAC was considering for protection offered substantial downstream benefits to coral reefs. However, we were surprised to see that these priority forests for conservation actually did a very poor job at representing key threatened vegetation types (Klein et al. 2014a and 2014b).
I took these results back to the PAC with the recommendation to add some additional forests to the priority list in places of notable terrestrial biodiversity that also conferred benefits to downstream reefs. Of course, adding forest to the reserve network comes with a cost so there was every chance that this recommendation might have been knocked back. However, in this case the advice was accepted and a revised list of priority forest sites for conservation was endorsed by Fiji’s National Environment Council in October 2013.
At the end of the day, governments only have a limited amount of resources available for conservation. Thus, there will always be tradeoffs associated with any location chosen for management. CEED’s Director, and a collaborator on this work, Hugh Possingham puts it like this: “The trick is to identify areas that maximize benefits, such as biodiversity conservation and fisheries production, while upsetting the fewest number of people. It’s a balancing act, and before now, we had few tools to help us span the divide between land and sea planning.”
It’s true. Identifying an effective reserve network is a balancing act between science and a broad range of stakeholders. In this instance there’s every reason to hope a good balance has been reached.
“The trick is to identify areas that maximize benefits, such as biodiversity conservation and fisheries production, while upsetting the fewest number of people.”
More info: Stacy Jupiter firstname.lastname@example.org or Carissa Klein email@example.com
Klein CJ, Jupiter SD, Selig ER, Watts ME, Halpern BS, Kamal M, Roelfsema C, Possingham HP (2012) Forest conservation delivers highly variable coral reef conservation outcomes. Ecological Applications 22:1246-1256.
Klein CJ, Jupiter SD, Watts M, Possingham HP (2014a) Evaluating the influence of candidate terrestrial protected areas on coral reef condition in Fiji. Marine Policy 44:360-365.
Klein CJ, Jupiter SD, & Possingham HP (2014b) Setting conservation priorities in Fiji: Decision science versus additive scoring systems. Marine Policy .