Marine ‘biodiversity crisis’ tackled with new database of conservation plans


Aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef. Credit: NASA

The database brings together plans from around the world, enabling researchers to improve future plans and save species from extinction.

The number of protected areas for conservation is rising rapidly, and this trend is set to continue as international policy targets are set in the face of a ‘biodiversity crisis’: the rapid loss of species and degradation of ecosystems.

We have at least 20 years of marine planning experience, we need to be able to learn from both our planning successes and failures. This database will help us do that. Dr Morena Mills

However, despite the vast number of studies and plans for protected areas, there is no easy way to find information on methods, trends, and progress in how to plan for these conservation areas.

Now, researchers led by James Cook University, Imperial College London and the University of Maine have taken the first step towards a global repository by launching a database of marine conservation plans. A description of the database is published today in Biological Conservation.

Dr Morena Mills, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial and co-leader of the overarching Conservation Planning Database project, said a global database to track development, implementation and impact of conservation planning is urgently needed.

“The new database is a move towards a centralised repository of information of planning exercises, so we can rapidly advance conservation planning theory and practice.

“We have at least 20 years of marine planning experience, we need to be able to learn from both our planning successes and failures. This database will help us do that.”

Making protected areas count

Dr Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University led the study into marine conservation planning worldwide.

He said that despite the growth of systematic conservation planning studies, used to determine which areas would be most useful to protect to conserve marine biodiversity, the database shows there are deficiencies in the present system.

He said: “There is no structured or reliable way of finding information on methods, trends and progress. There is little evidence of input from stakeholders. There are important gaps in geographic coverage and not enough work done on the areas most threatened.

“We know the number and total extent of protected areas will increase significantly during the next few decades. The challenge is making this expansion count in terms of biodiversity conservation.”

Learning from previous plans

Professor Heather Leslie, an international leader in marine conservation science and Director of the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center, said: “With this database in hand, donors and non-government organisations can identify regions and topical areas needing further work, and scientists, practitioners and policy-makers can learn from previous plans.

“In addition, it gives the scientific community – including peer reviewers – a means of assessing trends in conservation planning methods and applications, so that we can learn from our previous work and shape our new work accordingly.”

Adapted from a press release by James Cook University.


Research advances and gaps in marine planning: towards a global database in systematic conservation planning’ by Álvarez-Romero, J. G., M. Mills, V. M. Adams, G. G. Gurney, R. L. Pressey, R. Weeks, N. C. Ban, J. Cheok, T. E. Davies, J. C. Day, M. A. Hamel, H. M. Leslie, R. A. Magris, and C. J. Storlie is published in Biological Conservation.

See the press release of this article


Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
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