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Can zoning still protect ecosystems?

29
Oct 2019

Posted By

Jon Day

For nearly 40 years, marine zoning has played an important role in managing the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).  Given the recent assessment of the outlook for the GBR as very poor, some may wonder whether the current management approach, including zoning, is still appropriate?

Zoning has changed considerably since the first zoning plans were finalised in 1988. A recent study, led by Jon Day and just published in Aquatic Conservation, summarises numerous lessons learned from decades of applying zoning. It outlines why zoning remains an important tool for marine conservation.

Effective marine protected area (MPA) management requires a lot more than just a zoning plan. Zoning remains an important spatial management tool, but an effective combination of a range of complementary management tools (spatial and temporal), applied at a range of scales, provides an integrated but flexible approach necessary for effectively managing an MPA.

Zoning was the cornerstone for GBR management when the main threats in 1970–80s were unsustainable fishing practices, unregulated marine tourism,  new types of aquaculture and increasing shipping. These threats were mainly within the GBR and well addressed by the zoning plans that helped minimize conflicts between incompatible activities and regulated use to protect ecologically valuable or sensitive areas.

Today, however, the main threats to the GBR are quite different and most originate from outside the GBR. These include: ocean warming and ocean acidification from climate change; adverse water quality originating from upstream catchments; and unsustainable land use and coastal developments occurring adjacent to, but outside, the GBR Marine Park.

Within-park zoning is not the most appropriate tool to address all these pressures—but zoning can still help mitigate their effects and contribute to the Reef’s resilience.

If all the management layers which aim to address this myriad of management issues were applied in a single two-dimensional zoning plan, it would be extremely complex and confusing. Rather than a single management plan, a comprehensive three-dimensional management system exists in the GBR, comprising Federal agency plans, State agency plans and other plans (e.g. fisheries management plans, port plans, etc). This full suite of management tools comprises a comprehensive management framework, integrated and coordinated across agencies and jurisdictions.

This paper provides an update on various previous papers addressing zoning (e.g. Day (2002) ‘Zoning: lessons from the GBR‘ in Ocean & Coastal Management has 360+ citations)…. and provides many useful lessons for those interested in zoning or marine spatial planning.

The following are a few of the many lessons outlined in the paper:

  • The realisation that while zoning is an important spatial management tool, that effective MPA management requires a range of complementary tools (spatial and temporal) applied at a range of scales. The effective combination of these management tools provides for the integrated approach, considered necessary for managing a large MPA.
  • Zoning can increase the resilience of biodiversity within and beyond highly protected areas  demonstrating that soundly based local applications can contribute to effective ecosystem-based management.
  • Complementary zoning (effectively ‘mirrored’ zoning) across State and Federal jurisdictions can have many advantages where there are differing jurisdictional responsibilities in adjoining waters.
  • A substantial consultative process with effective public and stakeholder engagement, including the release of a draft zoning plan for public comment, is important for building  community and political understanding, and greater acceptance of the final zoning plan.

As with most aspects of protected area management, zoning is only effective if it is well-resourced with effective monitoring and compliance. Lines on maps for zones, no matter how scientifically well designed, will not protect the ecosystem in the absence of effective management.

Day J, Kenchington R, Tanzer J, Cameron D (2019). Aquatic Conservation. Marine zoning revisited: How decades of zoning the Great Barrier Reef has evolved as an effective spatial planning approach for marine ecosystem‐based management’. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.3115

 

 

Many lessons were learned across the 40 odd years of MPA zoning of the Great Barrier Reef. A full suite of management tools comprises a comprehensive management framework, and is integrated and coordinated across agencies and jurisdictions.
Many lessons were learned across the 40 odd years of MPA zoning of the Great Barrier Reef. A full suite of management tools comprises a comprehensive management framework, and is integrated and coordinated across agencies and jurisdictions.

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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au