Abstract: Overfishing, pollution, coastal development and climate change threaten marine biodiversity globally and compromise the services that marine ecosystems provide. Spatial management, including setting aside land for conservation, is central to curbing the global decline in biodiversity, but many threats originate from beyond the boundaries of protected areas. This is a particular problem in marine systems, which are influenced by many activities on land. Integrating land and sea conservation planning is therefore of utmost importance. Systematic conservation planning (SCP) provides a framework to identify areas where actions can be effective in addressing these threats, while minimizing the costs of interventions. Methodologies to incorporate land-sea connections in conservation planning are developing quickly, but most conservation planning initiatives have not embraced an integrated approach. Recent advances in theories and tools in conservation planning can contribute to overcome these limitations and to explicitly incorporate land-sea connections. However, additional scientific knowledge is needed to address cross-system threats and to manage the complexities of conservation across realms.
My project explores theoretical and methodological aspects of two decision-making problems associated with a land-sea approach: integrating cross system-threats (i.e. how land-based threats can affect marine and coastal spatial prioritization), and considering competing values (i.e. spatial incongruence between upstream and downstream values of coastal catchments). In order to address these questions, first I reviewed the literature describing connections between land and sea, and how they have been incorporated into conservation planning. Based on this review I identified the critical elements of an integrated land-sea planning approach and suggested ways of explicitly incorporating land-sea connections through the use of a novel operational framework. Following, I analyzed marine planning initiatives in the Gulf of California (GoC) to investigate whether the elements identified in the latter framework have informed practical applications. The Gulf of California is an ideal case study for comparing areas with multiple marine conservation plans, with seven marine planning exercises undertaken in the past 15 years. Despite some convergence, we found important spatial differences in priorities between plans. The existence of multiple marine conservation plans in the GoC highlighted some of the complexities and benefits of having multiple sets of priorities. The review also showed that the use of SCP methods has progressed slowly and highlighted benefits and difficulties of applying SCP principles and tools.
A major gap in marine management of the GoC is the need to address land-sea connections, in particular land-based pollution, which has been identified as a major threat to marine ecosystems. I used catchment modelling to assess the magnitude of the problem and to identify areas that require intervention for mitigation of land-based threats. Different catchment modelling approaches to identify sources of nutrients and sediments vary in data requirements, outputs, and applications. I compared two models commonly used to prioritize regional catchment management and discuss the elements that may guide which model to use. In addition to mapping sources of land-based pollution, identifying the affected areas and the scale of influence on marine ecosystems is critical to assess the ecological impacts of degraded water quality. I developed an improved model of exposure to river plumes (based on satellite imagery) to assess the potential impact of land-based pollution. I discuss the application of the model to inform catchment management and to monitor exposure of marine ecosystems to plumes. Finally, I used the outputs from the catchment and river plume models to develop an integrated land-sea plan for selected catchments in the GoC. This plan considers the potential of natural vegetation to be transformed into anthropic land uses. I investigate how considering land-based threats can influence the spatial distribution of priorities on land and sea, and discuss the difficulties (including tradeoffs) that planners may encounter when following an integrated land-sea planning approach.
Biography: Jorge was born and grew up in Mexico City. He completed his BSc in Biology at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) with a research on invasive alien species in Mexico and did a Master degree in Management, Conservation and International Trade of Species at the International University of Andalusia, Spain. Previous experiences include conservation, management, and sustainable use of wildlife in Mexico, as well as coordinating Mexico’s Scientific Authority under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) within the National Biodiversity Commission (CONABIO). Jorge is currently a PhD candidate within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, under the supervision of Professor Bob Pressey, who leads Program 6 “Conservation Planning for a Sustainable Future” of the Centre.