In the past, much of conservation planning has prioritised areas with high biodiversity value. However, the work of the conservation planning group and others is demonstrating that prioritising areas with high biodiversity value may not have the highest conservation impact. This is because many high biodiversity areas are under minimal threat from activities that are likely to compromise biodiversity (e.g. habitat destruction, fishing, etc.), and protecting them will, therefore, make little difference.
To build on conservation planning processes of the past, we are developing new ways of prioritising areas for conservation based on impact. To do this, we are using the coral reef fisheries of Chuuk, a state in the Federated States of Micronesia, as a study system. In Chuuk, we are developing models of coral reef fish biomass and fishing pressure to estimate and map the amount of coral reef fish biomass that is likely to be lost in the future if different reefs are left unprotected, and how much coral reef fish biomass will recover if they are protected. We are also comparing multiple conservation planning strategies, such as targeting degraded reefs to maximise biodiversity recovery, or targeting intact reefs to mitigate biodiversity loss. We are also working with The Nature Conservancy and Chuuk Conservation Society to bring this information to the community, and to assist them in developing a conservation plan for Chuuk.
In October, Chuuk Conservation Society and The Nature Conservancy held a workshop with over 60 community leaders in Chuuk, and discussed options for managing and protecting Chuuk’s coral reef fisheries. At this workshop, we collected information on fishers’ spatial preferences, and social factors that might affect conservation planning in the area (e.g. reef ownership). Using this information and the models we have developed, we aim to develop a prioritisation framework that can be used to maximise conservation impact and restore coral reef fisheries in Chuuk.