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Climate-smart workshop explores innovative approaches to Marine Spatial Planning

The Waitt Institute hosted a week-long workshop with Blue Prosperity Coalition (BPC) partners from the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at The University of Queensland (UQ), the Environmental and Markets Lab (emLab) and the McClintock Lab (SeaSketch) from University of California Santa Barbara, Global Fishing Watch, and the Sandin Lab, Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego. 

At this collaborative forum, attendees discussed the current status of BPC programs and explored new approaches in climate-smart Marine Spatial Planning and their capacity to support country partners. Site-specific approaches and cutting-edge tools were identified for development and trial according to BPC needs. 

“This is a true multi-institutional research collaboration to advance ocean conservation science and practice. We are developing world-class, climate-smart approaches and tools for Marine Spatial Planning and placement of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Spatial conservation prioritization is being taken to another level, where climate layers can be used to best plan and place MPAs and secure their ongoing performance in the midst of climate change,” said Dr. Pablo Granados-Dieseldorff, Sustainable Fisheries Director at the Waitt Institute.

Over the course of the week, the Waitt Institute, UQ, emLab, the McClintock and Sandin Labs, as well as Global Fishing Watch, presented and discussed a variety of topics related to climate-smart planning. Participants learned about current approaches to climate-smart marine spatial planning, which accounts for the impacts of climate change when designing and designating MPAs. The workshop also explored the importance of multiple-use planning and how these techniques can be implemented throughout the Waitt Institute’s BPC programs. University of Queensland’s Prof. Anthony Richardson said, “UQ is enjoying the challenge of making our Marine Spatial Planning research – including climate-smart protected area design – more applied and useful for Indo-Pacific nations. This is an exciting opportunity for our research to have real-world impact.”

The UQ team also presented an interactive app that automates data entry and analyses from the Waitt Institute, emLab, and local partners. The app will provide a user-friendly interface to inform decision-making for where MPAs can be located. The app will ultimately pull information from the innovative digital mapping platform, SeaSketch, as well as other global, regional and local data sources, taking into account current ocean habitats, government regulations, shipping lanes, fishing, recreational usage and other pertinent information, as well as goals for protection of habitats and maintenance of fishery productivity. The app then utilizes that data to identify priority areas in locations that will have the most impact on ecosystem health while having as little impact as possible on human activities and minimizing costs. UQ Senior Research Fellow Dr. Jason Everett is leading the app development and believes that “providing stakeholders with the chance to explore planning solutions will give them important insights into how MPA design occurs, while simultaneously providing them with ownership over decisions.” One of the app’s major benefits is that stakeholders can use it simultaneously in real time to design a Marine Spatial Plan. Rather than the traditional approach of interacting with stakeholders over many meetings through a slow iterative process, the app can be a super-effective and rapid communication tool for stakeholders.

The Waitt Institute’s Science Director, Andy Estep, explained, “The app uses a computational process to address government planning needs (specific objectives) by calculating the best place(s) for a given planning need. The app can identify areas best suited for Marine Protected Areas, extractive uses, suitability for offshore energy, etc. It can prioritize any space as long as it has the data to support the decision and we are now going to be able to allow governments, scientists, and stakeholders to do this on their own thanks to the development of this software service.”


Assoc. Prof. Daniel Dunn from the University of Queensland “would like to thank the Waitt team for hosting us in La Jolla – it was great to showcase the progress we have made over the past year, learn more about what your stakeholder needs are, and to connect with the broader Waitt team. We look forward to continuing and enhancing our partnership.”

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