The MPA Inquiry in Bruny, Tasmania - part 1

A Case Study In MPA Planning and Implementation Difficulties

A key part of the Australian Government's marine conservation strategy, is developing a representative system of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Commonwealth waters by 2012. This will contribute to the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA), which is described in more detail in the Guidelines for Establishing the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.

The stated goal of the NRSMPA is to:

establish and manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of MPAs that will contribute to the long-term ecological viability of marine and estuarine systems, maintain ecological processes and systems and protect Australia's biological diversity at all levels.

Bioregions have been defined as 'assemblages of flora, fauna and the supporting geophysical environment contained within distinct but dynamic spatial boundaries'. The identification of these boundaries and comprehension of the functioning of bioregions is essential for enlightened ecological management. Distributional boundaries are the result of responses of organisms to boundaries between changing environmental factors and studies of species distributions can therefore help us better understand the dynamics of marine regions.

On 6 June 2005, the Tasmanian Minister for Environment and Planning issued a directive to the Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) to conduct an inquiry and make recommendations on the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Bruny Bioregion, in south-eastern Tasmania.

Of the nine Tasmanian bioregions the Bruny Bioregion stands out as being the most complex and diverse in terms of ecosystems and human activities and uses. It is notable amongst the Australian bioregions for its very high number of species with very limited distributions. Alongside this ecological significance is the economic significance of the Bruny Bioregion to Tasmania, particularly for commercial fishing, marine farming, tourism and recreation, urban and industrial development and shipping.

At the beginning of the Bruny MPA inquiry the RPDC stated that:

A number of key characteristics will define MPAs established in Tasmania, including:
  • being established for the conservation of biodiversity;
  • able to be classified into one or more of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) protected area management categories;
  • having secure status that can only be revoked by a Parliamentary process; and
  • contributes to the representativeness, comprehensiveness or adequacy (CAR) of the Tasmanian MPA system.

The scope of the inquiry outlined in the terms of reference was for the Commission to:
  • use the identification and selection criteria contained in the Tasmanian Marine Protected Areas Strategy to assess and select those areas of public land in the Bruny Bioregion that are suitable for declaration as Marine Protected Areas; and
  • identify potential boundaries and management arrangements for those areas suitable for declaration as Marine Protected Areas.

The RPDC produced an Background Report in June 2006. This Background Report was placed on exhibition and public comment invited. The Commission received 42 submissions on the Background Report. Key issues raised in submissions were:
  • threats and pressures to coastal ecosystems, including overfishing and climate change;
  • existing status of the marine environment;
  • nature and location of important and unique aspects of marine habitats and communities;
  • the need for MPAs;
  • inadequacies of existing Marine Nature Reserves;
  • potential for economic impacts on commercial fisheries;
  • areas of high recreational interest and usage;
  • management and resourcing arrangements for MPAs; and
  • nominations of potential areas and natural features that would benefit from protection within an MPA.

As a result of the response to the Background Report the Commission considered that further public input was required before a Draft Recommendations Report could be prepared. Accordingly, an Interim Report was published in March 2007 and placed on public exhibition. The Interim Report focused on the identification stage of the process, i.e. the presentation of areas that may be suitable for inclusion within MPAs based on their meeting identification criteria in the Strategy. The Interim Report also identified threats to the marine environment in the Bruny Bioregion, and assessed the comprehensiveness and representativeness of habitats in existing MPAs. Interested persons and groups were invited to make written submissions on this phase of the process.

The Commission received 24 submissions on the Interim Report. Submissions broadly canvassed issues similar to those raised on the Background Report. Additionally, submissions at this stage:
  • provided further information on values of identified areas;
  • commented on the Commission’s analysis of the identification criteria; and
  • flagged areas they viewed as best candidates for MPAs.

The Commission then prepared a Draft Recommendations Report. The Draft Recommendations Report presented the priorities applied by the Commission to reduce in number the 45 identified areas in the Interim Report to 21 priority identified areas, from which the draft MPAs were selected. The main content of the Draft Recommendations Report was the presentation of areas that were considered suitable for declaration as marine protected areas, following application of the identification and selection criteria of the Strategy. These areas were identified using information from the Background Report and Interim Report, written submissions and submissions made at the Hearing held in September and November 2006. In August 2007, the Draft Recommendations Report was placed on public exhibition and public comment invited. The Commission received 191 submissions on the Draft Recommendations Report.

Key issues raised in submissions included:
  • Many MPA-specific issues, concerns and additional information: largely addressing social and economic impacts, and including safety and compensation issues;
  • Views on a broad range of considerations for management of MPAs (e.g. levels of protection, boundaries, enforcement, resourcing), and allowable activities within MPAs;
  • Views on threatening processes to the marine environment, with fishing getting considerable attention;
  • Uncertainty as to why MPAs are needed and what benefits they can provide;
  • Expressions of endorsement or non-endorsement across the recommendations broadly and also MPA-specific;
  • Concerns about the process of the inquiry and the level of consultation; and
  • Concerns about whether the Commission had adequately addressed the selection criteria in the Strategy.

To be continued...

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