The Conservation Planning Group Applied conservation research

Pilbara Islands Visit and Workshop [part 2]

This is the second in a two part report from the Pilbara Islands, where we have a project underway to develop decision support systems for prioritising and implementing management actions for biosecurity.

Workshop1The only disturbance to the peace and quiet during the walk along the shore was the infrequent buzz of a large model aircraft zooming along overhead. While somewhat incongruous this was in fact a remotely piloted drone surveying the islands for turtle tracks and nest abundances. It’s exciting to see the latest technology being used for biodiversity surveys which is surely producing data of a quality that simply wasn’t previously possible. This particular survey was being run by consultants for one of the local oil and gas companies. During our discussions it wasn’t clear if the data would be available to DPaW and the project or would be held locked away for private use, which raised a few eyebrows.

On leaving Thevenard we settled into the Ningaloo resort hotel in Exmouth, our base for the next five nights, where we would justify our trip by getting some real work done. Agenda item one was to meet the local area managers of DPaW and bring them up to speed on the project and get their feedback. Every step of the project from concepts to modelling involves the managers to ensure the project outcomes are realistic and practical. After the meeting with local mangers we spent the next three days brainstorming some of the conceptual and practical challenges of the project. This was the first time the whole project team had had a really good chance to think about the project and lots of progress and plans were made.

The project is attempting to really push the boundaries of conservation management planning by bringing together multiple islands with different management objectives, different management costs, and different biological and socioeconomic contexts such as visitor numbers. The first step has been to identify and quantify all of the important biodiversity features on the islands. Next we will identify and quantify the threats to each of the biodiversity features and the costs and effectiveness of the management actions to reduce those threats. Once we have these data, much of which will come from expert elicitation, we will design models and software to optimise the choice of conservation management activities with a range of different objectives, such as cost minimisation.

Overall it was a fantastically useful and pleasurable trip, the richness and abundance of wildlife on the islands is stunning. The region will be increasingly impacted by a growing human population, increased visitors and hydrocarbon development, which will require careful management. There are some pressing areas where management can be strengthened especially with respect to biosecurity and preventing more invasive species getting onto the islands. Hopefully the project will be able to make a substantial contribution to the future management of these islands and improve the long-term conservation outcomes within highly constrained management budgets.

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About Us
We are a multidisciplinary group of researchers at James Cook University, interested in all aspects of conservation planning and led by Prof. Bob Pressey. We are based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the College of Marine & Environmental Sciences, the College of Business, Law & Governance, and the Cairns Institute. We collaborate widely with conservation biologists and practitioners worldwide. 

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