A new era of conservation planning
Release Date: 04-21-2009

ST. LUCIA, Queensland, Australia and PORTLAND, Ore. — Conservation planners often work in a black and white world: they are asked to determine whether an area should be set aside for protection or left open for business-as-usual.

This either-or scenario can leave planners in a no-win situation in ocean planning, for example, where they are asked to balance the competing needs of commercial and recreational fishermen, offshore aquaculture, wave parks, wind parks, marine protected areas, shipping lanes and developers laying Internet cable.

New technology developed by the University of Queensland and commissioned by Ecotrust, called Marxan with Zones, attempts to ease planning challenges by addressing the general lack of data — whether use or habitat data — that inhibits successful land and marine planning.

The technology was developed by Matthew Watts and Dr. Ian Ball, and led by Professor Hugh Possingham (www.uq.edu.au/spatialecology/index.html?page=66440), a Rhodes Scholar and the Director of the Ecology Centre at the University of Queensland. The technology is built upon Marxan, the world’s most widely-used conservation software-planning tool.

Here’s how it works: The software allows several use scenarios to be considered at once, and it finds “zones” where competing interests can co-exist and identify areas suitable for fishing, marine protection, recreation and energy. The new use “zones” often exist between what would have previously been “open” and “reserve” areas.

Marxan with Zones is designed to support, not replace, the stakeholder-driven planning process. Within the software, each “zone” can be tailored to its own actions, objectives and constraints; as such the cost of implementing each zone in any location is then minimized while achieving a variety of conservation and land- or ocean-use objectives. The technology is expected to greatly reduce the local economic impacts stemming from the implementation of zones such as marine protected areas.

Marxan with Zones is free on the Web (www.uq.edu.au/marxan), and it is expected that policy makers and planners at the federal, provincial and state levels will use the software. The technology has been tested off the coasts of Australia and California, but it could be used anywhere.

New Tools for Social-Ecological Inquiry 
Marxan with Zones is part of an emerging class of social learning tools that combine scientific rigor with social pragmatism. The tools seek to build transparency and data parity into ecosystem management, to advance a common understanding of best management practices, to connect regional and sustainable product markets, and to facilitate inquiry into social-ecological relationships.

It is expected that Marxan with Zones will facilitate more informed conversations between fishermen, policy makers and others, and better management planning for the benefit of marine environments and communities.

About The University of Queensland
The University of Queensland is one of Australia’s premier learning and research institutions. It is the oldest university in Queensland and has produced generations of graduates who have gone on to become leaders in all areas of society and industry. The University is a founding member of the national Group of Eight, an alliance of research-strong “sandstone” universities committed to ensuring that Australia has higher education institutions which are genuinely world class. It belongs also to the global Universitas 21 alliance. This group aims to enhance the quality of university outcomes through international benchmarking and a joint venture e-learning project with The Thomson Corporation.

About Ecotrust
Over nearly 20 years, Ecotrust has converted $60 million in grants into more than $300 million in capital for local people, businesses, and organizations from Alaska to California. Ecotrust’s many innovations include co-founding the world’s first environmental bank, starting the world’s first ecosystem investment fund, creating a range of programs in fisheries, forestry, food, farms and children’s health, and developing new scientific and information tools to improve social, economic and environmental decision-making. Ecotrust works locally in ways that promise hope abroad, and it honors and incorporates the wisdom of Native and First Nation knowledge in its work. More on the Web at www.ecotrust.org.