Multi-resolution conservation planning: Designing MPA networks linking inshore and offshore ecosystems
Inshore and offshore marine conservation plans are often developed independently. This approach ignores ecological connectivity among ecosystems, across scales, and is economically inefficient. Designing Marine Protected Areas (MPA) networks linking inshore, continental shelf and offshore ecosystems requires a multi-scalar understanding of marine ecosystems and human activities. To address this challenge we developed a multi-resolution marine conservation planning approach and tested the method in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa. Data on 400 marine items including habitats, species, processes and human activities were collected for the inshore, continental shelf and offshore regions. A spatially nested system of planning units, ranking in resolution from 0.2 km to 10 km, was designed to select priority areas for conservation. Using MARXAN conservation planning software, the site prioritisation process operated a selection from the coast to the offshore domain where more planning options are available. This approach reflects the multi-scalar nature of marine ecosystem patterns and processes. It also allows the smooth integration of a continuum of data ranking in resolution from a meter (i.e. field observation) to a kilometre (i.e. global satellite images such as MODIS data). Our method is simple and replicable, it contributes to better connectivity between inshore and offshore conservation systems, and towards more resilient and efficient MPA networks.
Application of marine conservation plans in South Africa to national policy, regional planning frameworks, and local implementation
Marine spatial conservation assessment and planning initiatives in South Africa have emerged at different scales. A national offshore assessment, providing a very broad framework for biodiversity conservation planning exists, but is limited in the availability of consistent fine-scale data for the whole planning region. This is particularly problematic in the inshore, specifically the shoreline, where relevant scales of biological pattern are at a much finer level than offshore, and where variability in threats to the marine environment tend occur at the scale of m’s rather than km’s, and stakeholders are strongly invested in knowledge about the patterns of the biodiversity that are clearly visible to them. In this context broad plans suffer credibility crises when they do not incorporate information at the same scale as the local knowledge. Consequently, our national offshore assessment addressed only those areas deeper than 30m, and finer-scale biodiversity assessments and plans were developed for inshore areas. In the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa, we have piloted an approach to work from the shoreline out to the Exclusive Economic Zone, using a multi-scale analysis. We compare our results with existing, differently-scaled plans, and explore the issues inherent in reconciling the differences in the areas identified as priorities for conservation action, the responses from non-governmental stakeholders in engaging in implementation of the plans, and the challenges in achieving co-ordination across different levels of government.