Systematic marine conservation planning in data-poor regions: Socioeconomic data is essential

Systematic planning for conservation is highly regarded but relies on spatially explicit data that are lacking in many areas of conservation concern. The decision support tool Marxan is applied to a reef system in the central Philippines where 30 marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established in communities without much use of biophysical data. The intent was to explore how Marxan might assist with the legally required expansion to protect 15% of marine waters, and how existing MPAs might affect that process.

Results show that biophysical information alone did not provide much guidance in identifying patterns of conservation importance in areas where the data are poor. Socioeconomic data were needed to distinguish among possible areas for protection; but here, as elsewhere in marine environments, the availability of such data was very limited.

In the final analysis, local knowledge and integrated understanding of socioeconomic realities may offer the best spatially explicit information. The 30 existing MPAs, which encompassed a small proportion of the reef system, did not limit future options in developing a suite of MPAs on a broader scale. Rather, they appeared to generate the support for MPAs that is obligatory for any larger zoning effort.

In summary, establishing MPAs based on community-driven criteria has biological and social value, but efforts should be made to collect ecological and socioeconomic data to guide the continued creation of MPAs.

Ban, N.C, Hansen, G.J.A., Jones, M.L. & A.C.J Vincent (2009). Systematic marine conservation planning in data-poor regions: socioeconomic data are essential.  Marine Policy 33(5):794-800.