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A new paper on adaptive spatial planning, led by Conservation Planing Group members Morena Mills, Rebecca Weeks and Bob Pressey (with many wonderful co-authors!), is now online at Biological Conservation.

Using case studies from Fiji (pictured above), Philippines, Australia, the USA, and South Africa, we explore the extent to which the many promises of adaptive spatial planning have been realised in real-world contexts. Long story short: there are definitely benefits to taking an adaptive approach, but some persistent challenges remain. We’re hopeful that future research can progress efforts to overcome those too.

Mills, M., R. Weeks, R. L. Pressey, M. G. Gleason, R.-L. Eisma-Osorio, A. T. Lombard, J. M. Harris, A. B. Killmer, A. White, and T. H. Morrison. 2015. Real-world progress in overcoming the challenges of adaptive spatial planning in marine protected areas. Biological Conservation 181:54–63.

Guidelines for spatial planning, including those from integrated coastal management, systematic conservation planning, and marine spatial planning, have conceived planning processes as iterative and adaptive. Adaptive spatial planning is advocated because it allows decisions to be improved with new data, as knowledge accumulates on management within particular contexts, and to fine-tune spatial management arrangements to fit constantly changing social-ecological systems. Yet, to date there have been very few reviews of the process and practice of adaptive spatial planning in real-world contexts. Here we review the theoretical challenges presented in the literature on adaptive spatial planning against 5 case studies of adaptive planning in the marine realm: Kubulau District, Fiji (pictured above); Southeast Cebu, Philippines; the Great Barrier Reef, Australia; central California, USA; and KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Our aim is to assess the extent to which the theoretical challenges have been addressed in practice. We find that none of the case studies analyzed effectively addressed all the challenges of adaptive spatial planning. Differences in legislation, resources, and capacity to undertake adaptive spatial planning mean that each planning process is operated differently in each case study. For example, adaptive spatial planning can occur through a structured and institutionalized approach when resources and government support are available, but it can also operate in a relatively more opportunistic and flexible way if governments are weaker but civil society has strong champions. Although the case studies addressed aspects of adaptive planning, some persistent challenges remain, including scientific gaps regarding triggers for adaptation and unsympathetic institutional and policy contexts and planning cultures. These challenges must be addressed before all the benefits of adaptive spatial planning can be realized.

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