What needs to change to undertake quantitative assessment of biodiversity outcomes in protected areas

I am very happy to announce the final paper from my PhD has now been published!

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Here is a brief outline of the paper:

Protected area management effectiveness (PAME) evaluation is increasingly undertaken to evaluate governance, assess conservation outcomes and inform evidence-based management of protected areas (PAs). Within PAME, quantitative approaches to assess biodiversity outcomes are now emerging, where biological monitoring data are directly assessed against quantitative (numerically defined) condition categories (termed quantitative condition assessments). However, more commonly qualitative condition assessments are employed in PAME, which use descriptive condition categories and are evaluated largely with expert judgement that can be subject to a range of biases, such as linguistic uncertainty and overconfidence.

Despite the benefits of increased transparency and repeatability of evaluations, quantitative condition assessments are rarely used in PAME. To understand why, we interviewed practitioners from all Australian marine protected area (MPA) networks, which have access to long-term biological monitoring data and are developing or conducting PAME evaluations.

Our research revealed that there is a desire within management agencies to implement quantitative condition assessment of biodiversity outcomes in Australian MPAs. However, practitioners report many challenges in transitioning from undertaking qualitative to quantitative condition assessments of biodiversity outcomes, which are hampering progress. Challenges include a lack of agency capacity (staff numbers and money), knowledge gaps, and diminishing public and political support for PAs. We point to opportunities to target strategies that will assist agencies overcome these challenges, including new decision support tools, approaches to better finance conservation efforts, and to promote more management relevant science.

Please follow this open access link to access this paper: authors.elsevier.com/a/1Uyhw14Z6tTFRO

If you’d like to see some of my other PhD research, please click the links below:

Addison P.F.E., Flander L.B., Cook C.N. (2017) Towards quantitative condition assessment of biodiversity outcomes: insights from Australian marine protected areas. Journal of Environmental Management. 198, 183–191.

Addison, P.F.E., Flander, L. B., Cook, C.N. (2015) Are we missing the boat? Current uses of long-term biological monitoring data in the evaluation and management of marine protected areas. Journal of Environmental Management. 149, 148–156.

Addison, P.F.E, de Bie, K., Rumpff, L. (2015) Setting conservation management thresholds using a novel participatory modelling approach. Conservation Biology, 29, 1411–1422.

Addison, P. F. E., Rumpff, L., Bau, S. S., Carey, J. M., Chee, Y. E., Jarrad, F., McBride, M. F., and Burgman, M. A. (2013). Practical solutions for making models indispensable in conservation decision-making. Diversity and Distributions. Special issue on: Perspectives and tools for conservation risk analysis.  19, 490–502.

The National Marine Science Plan – what this means for early career researchers

This week the National Marine Science Plan was launched by the Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane. I was lucky enough to MC the launch, and proudly represented the early career research community.

My opportunity to represent the early career researcher community at the launch of the National Marine Science Plan
My opportunity to represent the early career researcher community at the launch of the National Marine Science Plan

The plan represents a shared vision from Australia’s marine science community, emphasising the economic, environmental and social needs of our marine estate. It presents the seven grand challenges that Australia’s marine estate faces over the next decade, and the highest priority science including the skills, relationships and infrastructure needed to tackle these challenges.

The National Marine Science Plan: grand challenges facing Australia’s marine estate over the next decade, and the highest priority science needed to tackle these challenges.
The National Marine Science Plan: grand challenges facing Australia’s marine estate over the next decade, and the highest priority science needed to tackle these challenges.

One of the key recommendations in the plan is to greatly improve marine science research training in Australia. The Plan notes that marine science training is currently limited to narrow fields of research, which limits opportunities for students and early career researchers to develop cross-disciplinary skills. In particular this model does not “facilitate training in a mixture of natural and social sciences, which is increasingly critical for environmental scientists”.

A recommendation made in the Plan is to develop training programs that are more quantitative, cross-disciplinary and linked in with the needs of industry and government. I think this sounds like a great idea!

John Gunn, Emma Johnston and Peter Steinberg have already suggested a few ways that improvements to marine training could be made. One way would be to create a group of marine institutions to offer cross-disciplinary marine science subjects that higher education students from different institutions could choose to study.

The Plan also suggests that “cadetships, internships, industry sponsored postgraduate and postdoctoral scholarships” will be crucial for students and early career researchers to develop the inter-disciplinary skills needed to tackle the current and future challenges facing Australia’s marine estate.

As an early career researcher I look forward to seeing the recommendations from the Plan become a reality over the next decade. The Plan represents a really positive vision for marine science in Australia, which my marine science colleagues and I look forward being part of and aim to carry forward in future decades.

Victorians show their passion for marine science

Over 200 members of the general public attended the sold out event “Showcasing Victoria’s Marine Science” at Museum Victoria last week. This event aimed to showcase some of the most cutting edge research being conducted by Victorian marine scientists, and was hosted by the Australian Marine Sciences Association Victoria branch and Museum Victoria.

Showcasing Victoria’s Marine Science event logo. Featuring underwater image by Dr Julian Finn, Museum Victoria.

We handpicked six marine scientists to share their diverse and inspiring research stories with the general public. Here are stories from three of our presenters:

Dr Peter Macreadie, from the University of Technology Sydney, shared his bright ideas for blue carbon: “Reducing carbon emissions is an important approach to tackling climate change, but too frequently we forget that we have another weapon up our sleeves: ‘biosequestration’, which is the natural process of using plants, trees, and soils to capture and store carbon. We have recently discovered that coastal vegetated habitats – seagrasses, saltmarshes and mangroves – are among the most powerful carbon sink on the planet. They can bury carbon at a rate 40-times faster than forests and have the ability to keep buried carbon locked away for millennial time scales”.

Dr Macreadie is working with scientists at Deakin University and their research has shown that human-induced changes in the coastal zone has caused a 100-fold weakening in the ability of coastal sediments to store carbon and thereby help mitigate climate change. It’s not all bad news though, Peter says that “Australia’s land is girt by sea and abounds in blue carbon sinks, which puts us in a prime position to capitalise on nature’s ability to help reset our planet’s thermostat”.

Dr Alecia Bellgrove, from Deakin University in Warnambool, shared her research on seaweed superfoods: “Seaweed production via aquaculture has doubled in the past 10 years and now accounts for a total annual harvest of 23.8 million tonnes valued at over US$6 billion globally.  There is currently no commercial aquaculture of Australian seaweeds, however we are receiving increasing interest from international importers for sources of high quality Australian Made seaweeds that are perceived as clean and pure, particularly in Asian markets”.

Dr Bellgrove believes that the opportunity for a new, sustainable and vibrant Australian seaweed industry is dawning. Her research group have begun to explore the unique Australian marine flora for potential new edible seaweed products for both domestic and international markets.  Their palatability tests and preliminary nutritional analyses suggest that Aussie seaweeds fair really well against existing commercial products.

Dr Kate Charlton-Robb, from the Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation, shared her dolphin discovery research: “In a time when we are losing species at an alarming rate, it is a rare event to discover a new species, let alone a dolphin that has been living right under our noses. The Burrunan dolphin, Tursiops australis, was formally described and named in 2011, and has two of the only known resident populations here in Victoria”.

Dr Charlton-Robb explained the bitter-sweet experience of the excitement of discovering the Burrunan dolphin, whilst officially listing this dolphin as threatened. “With an effective population size of less than 100 dolphins in each of the Port Phillip Bay and Gippsland Lakes resident populations, there is considerable concerns around the conservation of this species” Kate said. Kate’s research team are currently conducting applied research to further protect the Burrunan dolphin, by incorporating population and distribution assessments, conservation genetics and identifying areas of significance for this iconic species.

Our other three speakers shared their diverse and inspiring research stories with the general public: Tim Allen shared his perspective on the immense value of scientific research in Victorian marine conservation efforts; Dr Tim O’Hara inspired the audience about the amazing advances in deep sea biodiversity research at Museum Victoria; and, Associate Professor Jan Strugnell shared her southern ocean research that has revealed how dramatic ocean events of the past have left their legacy in the genes of an Antarctic octopus.

Our evening of marine science presentations: Dr Mark Norman (introducing our speakers), Dr Tim O'Hara, Dr Kate Charlton-Robb, and Associate Professor Jan Strugnell. Image credits: Vera Gin (Museum Victoria) and Allyson O'Brien (AMSA Victoria)
Our evening of marine science presentations: Dr Mark Norman (introducing our speakers), Dr Tim O’Hara, Dr Kate Charlton-Robb, Tim Allen, and Associate Professor Jan Strugnell. Image credits: Vera Gin (Museum Victoria) and Allyson O’Brien (AMSA Victoria).

This event has shown that Victorian marine scientists are producing high impact scientific knowledge with great environmental and economic value, and the public interest shown in this event is testament to its enormous social value.

Given the great success of this public event, AMSA Victoria are already planning another public event that will coincide with the national AMSA conference in Geelong this July. On Monday July 6th 2015, we will be hosting a Q&A style public event, where we will joined by a panel of leading Australian marine scientists who will discuss some of Australia’s major marine issues, and answer questions posed by the audience. From super trawlers to marine parks, it promises to be an evening of lively debate. So start thinking of some curly questions and keep an eye on our conference events webpage for more details.

Prue Addison, president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Marine Sciences Association