Island-arks-III-Tas_logo-e1383529987590The Island Arks Symposium III is currently underway in Hobart, Australia. The Conservation Planning Group presented a series of talks yesterday related to their research on Prioritising management actions for islands on the Great Barrier Reef and in Western Australia. Abstracts are below – sadly the presentations weren’t recorded. Bob Pressey was also interviewed about the conference on ABC Hobart. We’ll update here if and when the audio is available online!

Conservation in paradise: prioritising management actions on islands in tropical Australia; Bob Pressey, Jana Brotánková, Ian Craigie, Lesley Gibson, Stephen Hall, John Hicks, Cheryl Lohr, Keith Morris, John Olds, Malcolm Turner, Amelia Wenger.
This presentation describes the rationale, methods and expected results of two closely associated research projects. A team at James Cook University is collaborating with Queensland Parks and Wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife to develop a decision-support tool for management of islands in the southern Great Barrier Reef and off the Pilbara coast. Both projects involve island managers in the design of the tool and the collection of data. The operational model for the decision-support tool attempts to approximate, within the limits of reliable information, the full complexity of the decision-making process. The model considers spatially explicit data on biodiversity features, threats, and the effectiveness and cost of alternative management actions. Sub-models address dynamics of threats (e.g. management actions on one island mitigating risk on others), costs (e.g. dependence on field itinerary and number of islands visited), and actions (e.g. recognition that not all actions will be fully implemented). Underway are development of the prototype software and intensive elicitation of data from managers and other experts. Work planned for 2014 includes analysis of the sensitivity of priorities to uncertainties around parameter values and missing data.

The costs of conservation management on islands – developing a framework to understand and optimise spending; Ian Craigie & Bob Pressey.
The costs of conservation management actions are never far from the mind of managers who need to maximise ‘bang for the buck’ with budgets that are often inadequate. Yet financial costs are often one of the least understood aspects of conservation plans and projects, which are often written without direct reference to their costs. Conservation on islands is logistically challenging and practically complex, so optimising spending to achieve multiple objectives on multiple islands over a number of years requires a framework to allow us to move beyond the current ‘back of the envelope’ calculations, which can lead to missed opportunities to maximise spending efficiency and reduce costs. Here I present a preliminary framework for thinking about management costs on islands using data collected from islands in the Pilbara region of WA and central Great Barr ier Reef. I highlight the kind of data that are required for optimising spending and discuss some of the gaps that are often present in current plans. In future this work will be integrated into larger decision support and prioritisation systems for maximising conservation outcomes for native fauna on Western Australian and GBR islands.

The use of expert elicitation in prioritizing conservation management actions; Wenger A., Pressey, B., Hicks J., Turner M., Olds J., Craigie, I., Hall, S.
Managers of the Great Barrier Reef’s (GBR) islands face difficult decisions when it comes to prioritising conservation management actions. The islands contain a wide variety of natural and cultural values, which face multiple and dynamic threats. The threats have to be managed within a fixed budget, using actions with varying levels of effectiveness and costs. In order to improve management decision making on islands, we are collating existing data on features, threats, and management actions for a subset of islands and cays in the southern GBR. As with most environmental datasets, there are large knowledge gaps, relating not only to species, ecosystems and threatening processes, but also to the costs and effectiveness of management actions. To address these gaps, expert elicitation is necessary to improve the content and the reliability of the datasets. Expert opinion can provide valuable first-hand information about local environmental issues when little published information exists. However the quality of the data collected from experts is highly dependent on the design and execution of expert elicitation process. Here I will present the latest thinking in expert elicitation techniques and share lessons from our experiences of eliciting data from GBR managers.

Towards a new software tool for conservation planning; Jana Brotanova, Bob Pressey, Ian Craigie, Steve Hall, Amelia Wagner
In a dynamic world, the process of prioritizing where to invest limited conservation resources is extremely complex. It needs to incorporate information on features (species, or landforms), planning units, ongoing or predicted future threats, and the costs and effectiveness of potential conservation actions. Extended research has been conducted on the spatial and temporal conservation prioritization using software tools such as Marxan, C-Plan, and Zonation to aid managers in their decision-making process.However, these tools are limited in various ways in addressing the full complexity of day-to-day management decisions. Some tools fail to consider variation in: land values in space and time; multiple threats and their spatio-temporal variations; multiple conservation actions applied to individual areas; the feasibility, effectiveness, and varying costs of a ctions; and the dynamic nature of biodiversity responses in space and time. Optimizing such a multi-dimensional system is a large challenge in complexity mathematics. What is needed is a new software tool that builds on current approaches, but allows for more realistic scenarios as described above, developed and parameterised in close collaboration with managers. This includes the modification of existing tools and the creation of new algorithms. The new software will be trialled in conservation planning exercises for islands in north-western Western Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.

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