Representation does not necessarily reduce threats to biodiversity: Australia's Commonwealth marine protected area system, 2012–2018

Elsevier BV
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Biological Conservation, 2020, 252
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd In 2012, Australia proclaimed a national marine protected area (MPA) system - the National Representative System of MPAs (NRSMPA). Following a change in federal government, the system underwent two major revisions: an independent review released in 2015, and a final plan designed by the Director of National Parks implemented in 2018. We used all three iterations of the NRSMPA, from 2012 to 2018, to compare: 1. the MPA zoning composition, using IUCN protected area categories; 2. the achievement of goals for representing biophysical features; and 3. the potential to mitigate threats to biodiversity from commercial fishing and offshore petroleum extraction. We found that protection levels in the NRSMPA were downgraded in 2018, compared to 2012 and 2015 iterations. Although each iteration met its qualitative goals, the lack of quantitative goals meant that representation of biophysical features was highly uneven and dominated by MPAs offering little protection against the impacts of extractive uses. Moreover, existing areas with value for pelagic longlining, demersal trawling, and offshore petroleum extraction were largely avoided by MPAs, irrespective of their biophysical features. MPAs, especially those with high protection, resulted in little forgone fisheries catch and revenue, likely providing few safeguards for species threatened by fishing. Changes in the NRSMPA over time have left more areas open to fishing, particularly pelagic fishing and notably in the Coral Sea. By focusing on meeting poorly defined representation goals instead of threat reduction, changes to the NRSMPA over time have increased the exposure of Australia's marine biodiversity to known threats.
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