Effective Environmental Planning for Northern Australia


Integrated catchment-to-coast planning poses a significant challenge for decision makers because of the complexity of environmental, social and economic data, and the various objectives that need to be considered (e.g. soil, carbon, water, biodiversity). There are limited funds for investment in natural resource management, so the benefits of different investment strategies need to be balanced between multiple desired outcomes, across landscapes, in streams, and in coastal-marine ecosystems.

In some cases, large benefits for local objectives (e.g. conserving terrestrial biodiversity) and downstream objectives (e.g. reducing erosion) are achievable with the same actions in the same places. More often, conservation objectives are competing because they require different actions in different places, so difficult choices will be necessary.

There is presently no decision support framework available that allows 
land managers to integrate multiple environmental, social, and economic management objectives to achieve as many as possible at the same time. This means that the limited resources can be allocated inefficiently.


This research will create a decision framework to guide catchment managers in making decisions about natural resource investments to achieve multiple objectives. This framework will allow land managers to draw together available environmental, social and economic information and to compare investment strategies to explicitly assess trade-offs between objectives. It will also consider development trajectories, cost, feasibility and effectiveness of alternative policy tools.


IMG_2205Researchers are collaborating closely with government agencies, catchment management groups, and other stakeholders to develop measurable objectives for biodiversity conservation, climate change, socio-economic values, and river mouth water quality in three trial catchments.

An important part of the work is a bi-annual workshop between researchers, catchment managers, and stakeholders. The feasibility of this approach has already been tested through consultation with the northern territory and Queensland governments, catchment management groups, and experts in modelling land use expansion and water quality in catchments.


UntitledThis project began in June 2011 and will conclude in December 2014. The expected research outputs are:

  • Quantitative objectives for conservation, development and livelihoods, identified by managers and other stakeholders in the three trial catchments.
  • High-resolution maps of local and downstream values across catchments.
  • Models of land use change and river mouth water quality.
  • A framework for managers to explore investment options and visualise trade-offs.
  • Models of alternative conservation, development and funding scenarios



The project is focused on three catchments across the three northern Australian states and territories. Later on the project team will look at the impact of water quality on the marine ecosystems downstream of these catchments.

  • The Gilbert River Catchment in Queensland
  • The Daly River Catchment in the Northern Territory
  • The Fitzroy River Catchment in Western Australia



Professor Bob Pressey, James Cook University  bob.pressey@jcu.edu.au

Dr Vanessa Adams, Charles Darwin University vanessa.adams@cdu.edu.au

Dr Jorge Álvarez Romero, James Cook University jorge.alvarezromero1@jcu.edu.au


Adams, V.M., R.L. Pressey, J.G. Álvarez-Romero. 2016. Using optimal land-use scenarios to assess trade-offs between conservation, development, and social values. PLoS ONE 11(6): e0158350

Álvarez-Romero, J.G., Adams, V.M., Pressey, R.L., Douglas, M., Dale, A., Auge, A., Ball, D., Childs, J., Digby, M., Dobbs, R., Gobius, N., Hinchley, D., Lancaster, I., Maughan, M., Perdrisat, I., 2015. Integrated cross-realm planning: a decision-makers’ perspective. Biological Conservation 191: 799–808

Stoeckl, N., T. Chaiechi, M. Farr, D. Jarvis, J.G. Álvarez-Romero, M.J. Kennard, V. Hermoso, R.L. Pressey. 2015. Co-benefits and trade-offs between agriculture and conservation: a case study in Northern Australia. Biological Conservation 191: 478–494

Adams, V. M., J. G. Álvarez-Romero, J. Carwardine, L. Cattarino, V. Hermoso, M. J. Kennard, S. Linke, R. L. Pressey, and N. Stoeckl. 2014. Planning across freshwater and terrestrial realms: co-benefits and tradeoffs between conservation actions. Conservation Letters 7 (5): 425-440

Dale, A., R.L. Pressey, V. Adams, J.G. Álvarez-Romero, M. Digby, R. Dobbs, M. Douglas, A. Auge, M. Maughan, J. Childs, D. Hinchley, I. Lancaster, I. Perdrisat. 2014. Catchment-scale governance in northern Australia: a preliminary evaluation. Journal of Economic and Social Policy 16 (1): Article 2

Adams, V.M., Pressey, R.L., and Stoeckl, N. (2012) Estimating land and conservation management costs: the first step in designing a stewardship program for the Northern Territory. Biological Conservation 148: 44-53. Request a Pdf.