Developing decision support systems for prioritising and implementing management actions for biosecurity


WA1Western Australia has over 3,700 islands ranging in size from small rocky outcrops to the largest, Dirk Hartog Island, at 58,640 ha. Many of these islands are important for the threatened and endemic species they support. For several species of native fauna, some islands are the last refuge from threats posed by invasive species such as foxes, black rats and feral cats. Many islands also provide critical breeding sites for seabirds and sea turtles, and some contain culturally significant sites.

Unfortunately, some islands have been colonised by invasive weeds such as buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) and introduced animals such as black rats (Rattus rattus). In addition, the increased use of islands by both the public for recreation and industry for extraction of oil and gas means an increased risk that invasive species will be introduced to islands. Invasive species are the biggest single cause of the loss of native species from islands across the globe.WA2
With so many islands to manage, it is important that managers have system that assists in the prioritisation of management actions to maximise the conservation outcomes achieved given a limited amount of funding.


Over the next five years, a team of researchers from the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) and James Cook University (Townsville, Queensland) will be working together to develop a decision support tool/model that will assist island managers in prioritising WA islands for biosecurity surveillance and management actions.

WA3Initially, the research team will focus on islands along the Pilbara coast between Exmouth Gulf and Eighty Mile Beach. Information required for input into the decision support tool includes known island values and threats, as well as the identification of management goals and actions to achieve those goals. Expert knowledge regarding cost of implementing management actions, social acceptability, and effectiveness of management actions will also contribute, as will new field data designed to fill gaps in our knowledge of islands. DPaW staff from the Pilbara region will play a key role in the development of the decision support tool, providing data that will be analysed to identify priorities for management.


The primary output from this research project will be a decision support tool that will assist island managers in WA4prioritising WA islands for (or parts of islands) for specific actions to reduce or eliminate the adverse effects of invasive species. The new software will be able to maximise conservation outcomes for a given budget, as well as estimating the funds required to achieve explicit objectives for the persistence of native species on islands. The decision support tool will be designed for day-to-day use in making accountable and cost effective decisions about where to spend limited funding for island management.

A similar project is being undertaken for the Southern Great Barrier Reef islands. It is hoped that the models developed in WA and Queensland will provide the basis for a a national biosecurity plan for islands.


This research project will generate several outputs that will influence conservation management actions on islands in Western Australia including:

  • A single comprehensive database on Western Australian island characteristics, fauna, flora, and threats.
  • An operational decision support tool for island management.
  • Training sessions to develop the capacity of DPaW staff to apply the model in managing the conservation estate.
  • Accountable and cost effective decisions that aid the conservation of WA’s idyllic islands and native species
  • A strong partnership with Queensland island researchers and managers.

    Across more than 550 islands along Western Australia’s Pilbara coastline between Exmouth and Eighty Mile Beach, including the Dampier Archipelago, the Mary Anne Passage islands and the Barrow–Montebello islands group.

    Professor Bob Pressey, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

    Keith Morris, Western Australia Department of Parks and Wildlife

    Dr Jana Brotankova, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
    Dr Ian Craigie, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

    Dr Lesley Gibson, Western Australia Department of Parks and Wildlife

    Mr Steve Hall, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

    logoChevronDr Cheryl Lohr, Western Australia Department of Parks and Wildlife

    Dr Amelia Wenger, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

    This Project is funded by Chevron Australia, through the Gorgon Project’s Net Conservation Benefits program.