James Cook University
Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.
Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution
Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.
From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)
James Cook University
My research focuses on solutions to resource management problems involving the design of conservation areas and the application of management actions both within and outside protected areas.
Systematic conservation planning provides a rigorous approach to decision-making that synthesises advances in ecology, economics, and the social sciences. My goal is to translate core and emerging scientific concepts in these areas into tangible management strategies that minimise the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, while also maximising benefits to resource users.
Most of my research is undertaken on coral reef ecosystems in tropical developing countries. My research questions are defined through collaboration with scientists, conservation practitioners and resource management stakeholders – from fishermen to policy makers at the highest level. I have developed conservation strategies in the Philippines, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau and have been actively involved with the marine protected areas working group of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security.
Prior to my current position, I worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji, and I continue to collaborate closely with conservation NGOs, including WCS and The Nature Conservancy. I currently supervise PhD students at James Cook University, and am a board member for the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania Section.
Planning For More Than No-Take Marine Reserves
Spatial planning for conservation and fisheries management focuses almost exclusively on the design of no-take marine reserves. However, in many regions there exists a local tradition or preference for alternative strategies. Conservation plans that employ locally preferred management strategies are likely to have greater compliance, and subsequently increased effectiveness for a range of objectives, including conservation. My research aims to better understand fishers’ preferences for different management strategies such as no-take areas, periodically harvested closures (see below) or gear restrictions. Drawing upon diffusion of innovation theory, I will explore whether fishers’ preferences are influenced more by their objectives for undertaking management (which often differ from those of conservation NGOs), perceptions of the effectiveness of different strategies, or by other cultural factors. Outcomes from this research will help conservation organisations to design management strategies that will achieve local buy-in, or, conversely, to identify local communities that will be most receptive to implementing strategies that benefit conservation objectives.
Connectivity & Conservation Planning
An ongoing focus of my research is investigating how spatial information on larval dispersal can be used to inform the design of marine reserve networks. I will further develop this area of research in 2016, working with colleagues in the Philippines. Using empirical data on larval dispersal, we will determine whether existing marine reserves are likely to be connected via larval dispersal, and then develop novel methods to prioritise sites for new reserves using information on larval connectivity. The Philippines is an excellent study region for this research, as the last few decades have seen a huge increase in the number of marine reserves, and the emergence of local government “alliances” for coastal resource management. We can thus combine our models of ecological connectivity with new data on collaborative governance networks, to determine whether these local alliances are likely to resolve social-ecological scale mismatches brought about by decentralised management. This will be the case only if collaboration occurs between municipalities whose reefs are connected via larval dispersal, and is of a nature that promotes effective management of connectivity processes.
Assessing The Effectiveness Of Periodically Harvested Closures
For the last few years, I have been involved with a collaborative research project investigating the effectiveness of periodically harvested fisheries closures. Widely implemented by local communities across Melanesia, periodically harvested closures restrict fishing activities for specified periods of time. Their design is highly variable, ranging from mostly open with short closures, to predominantly closed, with harvests permitted once per year or even less often. PHCs evolved primarily to serve social and cultural objectives. For example in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, communities traditionally closed areas of fishing ground for 100 days following the death of a respected community member – the area would then be opened to harvest fish for a funeral. In contemporary use however, PHCs are often expected to achieve a wide range of objectives, including maximising yields in the short-term, boosting fisheries sustainability in the long-term, and contributing towards biodiversity conservation goals. There are few empirical data measuring the effectiveness of PHCs, and it remains unclear whether they can achieve any or all of these objectives simultaneously, or what factors might be critical to their success. Our research team has been working towards a better understanding of the effectiveness of PHCs against different objectives, using both modelling and empirical approaches and data from PHCs in Fiji. The next phase will focus on taking what we’ve learnt from modelling and empirical studies of PHCs back to the people who are using them, to learn how our new understanding might inform decision-making and help communities to better achieve their objectives.
Blythe, J., Sulu, R., Harohau, D., Weeks, R., Schwarz, A., Mills, D., & Phillips, M. (2017) Social dynamics shaping the diffusion of aquaculture innovations. Sustainability 9 (1), 126.
Cheok J, Pressey RL, Weeks R, Andréfouët S, Moloney J (2016) Sympathy for the Devil: Detailing the Effects of Planning-Unit Size, Thematic Resolution of Reef Classes, and Socioeconomic Costs on Spatial Priorities for Marine Conservation. PLoS ONE 11(11): e0164869. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164869
Weeks, R., Green, A. L., Joseph, E., Peterson, N. and Terk, E. (2016), Using reef fish movement to inform marine reserve design. J Appl Ecol. 54 (1): 145–152. Doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12736
Bode M, Williamson DH, Weeks R, Jones GP, Almany GR, Harrison HB, Hopf, JK and Pressey RL (2016) Planning Marine Reserve Networks for Both Feature Representation and Demographic Persistence Using Connectivity Patterns. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0154272. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154272
Wendt, H.K., Weeks, R., Comley, J. & Aalbersberg, W. (2016) Systematic conservation planning within a Fijian customary governance context. Pacific Conservation Biology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/PC16001
Magris, R. A., Treml, E. A., Pressey, R. L. and Weeks, R. (2015), Integrating multiple species connectivity and habitat quality into conservation planning for coral reefs. Ecography. doi: 10.1111/ecog.01507
Green, A. L., A. P. Maypa, G. R. Almany, K. L. Rhodes, R. Weeks, P. J. Mumby, M. Gleason, R. A. Abesamis, and A. T. White. In Press. Larval dispersal and movement patterns of coral reef fishes, and implications for marine reserve network design. Biological Reviews.
Mills, M., Weeks, R., Pressey, R.L., Gleason, M., Eisma-Osorio, R.L., Lombard, A.T., Harris, J.M., Killmer, A.B., Morrison, T.H., and White, A.T. 2015. Real-world progress in overcoming the challenges of adaptive spatial planning. Biological Conservation 181: 54–63.
Jupiter, S. D., P. J. Cohen, R. Weeks, A. Tawake, and H. Govan. 2014. Locally-managed marine areas in the tropical Pacific: Diverse strategies to achieve multiple objectives. Pacific Conservation Biology 20(2): 165–179.
Weeks, R., Pressey, R.L., Wilson, J.R., Knight, M., Horigue, V., Abesamis, R., Acosta, R., and Jompa, J.. 2014. Ten things to get right for marine conservation planning in the Coral Triangle. F1000Research 2014, 3:91 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.4162)
Weeks, R., et al. 2014. Developing Marine Protected Area Networks in the Coral Triangle: Good Practices for Expanding the Coral Triangle Marine Protected Area System. Coastal Management. Coastal Management 42(2): 183-205
Magris, R. A., R. L. Pressey, R. Weeks, and N. C. Ban. 2014. Integrating connectivity and climate change into marine conservation planning. Biological Conservation 170:207–221.
Pressey, R. L., M. Mills, R. Weeks, and J. C. Day. 2013. The plan of the day: Managing the dynamic transition from regional conservation designs to local conservation actions. Biological Conservation 166:155–169.
Visconti, P., M. Di Marco, J. G. Álvarez-Romero, S. Januchowski-Hartley, R. L. Pressey, R. Weeks, and C. Rondinini. 2013. Effects of Errors and Gaps in Spatial Data Sets on Assessment of Conservation Progress. Conservation Biology 27:1000–1010.
Weeks, R; and Jupiter, SD (2013) Adaptive Comanagement of a Marine Protected Area Network in Fiji. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12153
Jupiter, S; Weeks, R; Jenkins, A; Egli, D and Cakacaka, A (2012) Effects of a single intensive harvest event on fish populations inside a customary marine closure. Coral Reefs. 31(2): 321-334.
Mills, M, Pressey, RL, Weeks, R, Foale, S and Ban, NC (2010). A mismatch of scales: challenges in planning for implementation of marine protected areas in the Coral Triangle. Conservation Letters 3(5): 291-303.
Weeks, R, Russ, GR, Bucol, AA and Alcala, AC (2010). Incorporating local tenure in the systematic design of marine protected area networks. Conservation Letters 3(6): 445-453.
Weeks, R, Russ, GR, Bucol, AA and Alcala, AC (2010). Shortcuts for marine conservation planning: the effectiveness of socioeconomic data surrogates. Biological Conservation 143(5): 1236-1244.
Weeks, R, Russ, GR, Alcala, AC and White, AT (2010). Effectiveness of marine protected areas in the Philippines for biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology 24(2): 531-540.
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