Interdisciplinary spatial solutions for marine conservation planning

Principal Investigator: Andrew Green

Project Abstract:
This project aims to build on the systematic conservation planning products developed by the ACEP-funded SeaPLAN project which identified critical biodiversity areas (CBAs) for protection on the South African east coast. This project advances research techniques for identification of CBAs and sensitive features to support achievement of an effective and representative network of MPAs. It focuses on continental shelf and shelf edge between Richards Bay and Port Edward where 5 CBAs were identified. Three of the new / expanded MPAs (uThukela, Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks) proposed for the national Phakisa initiative (to achieve a representative MPA network for South Africa of 5%) lie within these CBAs. The other CBAs are important to consider to achieve the CBD target of 10% protection. This is an integrative decision-support research project involving 6 research institutes, 2 management agencies (national and provincial) and an NGO. The inter-disciplinary team will conduct a high-resolution assessment of the seafloor characteristics coupled to ecosystem and species distributions and oceanographic processes. The team plans a strategic consequential procedure for data collection, commencing with generation of large-scale, high resolution bathymetry and seismic data, which will separate habitats at a medium scale. The oceanographic data will then be spatially imposed over this geological landscape, followed by the biological data (distribution of habitats and species), to provide an integrated categorization of the continental shelf and shelf edge suitable for use in the marine spatial planning (MSP) and conservation analyses. This project will also introduce an ecosystem services evaluation approach to understanding the value of MPAs using spatial data from one of the CBAs for a case study. Important extra components for the project are direct MPA stakeholder engagement and an innovative partnership to develop marine science capacity, driven directly through this project.