In the mid-late 1990s, there were concerns that the existing zoning did not adequately protect the range of biodiversity known to exist within the GBRMP. Furthermore, the zoning was inadequate to ensure that the entire ecosystem remained healthy, productive and resilient into the future. The location of most of the original highly protected zones reflected a historical focus on virtually only one habitat type (i.e. coral reefs), with a skewed emphasis in the more remote and 'pristine' areas.
Between May 1999 and December 2003, the GBRMPA undertook a comprehensive planning and consultative program to develop a new zoning plan for the GBRMP. A primary aim of the program was to better protect the range of biodiversity in the GBR, by increasing the extent of No-Take Areas (locally known as 'green zones'), ensuring they included 'representative' examples of all the different habitat types, otherwise known as bioregions (Box 12.1) (hence the name, the Representative Areas Program or RAP). A further aim was to maximise positive and minimise negative impacts on the users of the GBRMP. Scientific input, community involvement and agency innovation all contributed to achieving these aims.
During the rezoning program, all components of the existing Zoning Plans were open for comment and alteration. Given the previous and existing Zoning Plans had all been progressively developed over 17 years, some of the terms, management provisions, zone names and zone objectives differed slightly between various parts of the GBRMP. A new single Zoning Plan was therefore developed for the entire GBRMP enabling the planners to also address various important planning tasks, including:
• zoning 28 new coastal sections that were added to the GBRMP in 2000 and 2001;
• standardising terminology to make it consistent throughout, and
• implementation of simpler co-ordinate-based descriptions for all zone boundaries.
A number of factors contributed to the success of the new Zoning Plan:
• Use of independent experts. Independent experts greatly assisted in the development of a number of 'products' that were important to the planning process, and were widely available for discussion early in the planning program, in particular:
• GBR bioregionalisation. A fundamental foundation for the new Zoning Plan was the map of 30 reef and 40 non-reef 'bioregions' that was developed early in the RAP.
• A comprehensive range of biological and physical information across the GBRMP was used to define the bioregions. Staff of the GBRMPA initially collated information from numerous scientists with expert knowledge of the GBR. The most appropriate data sets were then used in classification and regression tree analyses to spatially cluster areas of similar species composition. A number of workshops, comprising reef and non-reef experts, then used all these data and analyses, plus their experience, to spatially describe the biodiversity of the GBR and develop the map of 70 bioregions.
• It was decided to map diversity at the scale of 10s to 100s of kilometres because this was a scale over which habitats change markedly. It was also a scale at which most relevant information was available and it was a meaningful scale for subsequent planning and management. Areas of relative homogeneity were labelled 'bioregions' to facilitate communication with stakeholders. Bioregions were defined as having habitats, communities (e.g. areas of seagrass) and physical features (e.g. sediment type, depth) that are more similar within the bioregion than those occurring in other bioregions.
• A draft version of the bioregionalisation was made available for public comment recognising that many local 'experts', including commercial and recreational fishers, coastal residents, rangers, and others have specialist knowledge about the level of variability of the GBR. This led to additional information and nine major refinements to the draft regionalisation.
• Operating principles for developing the new network. External natural science and social-economic-cultural advisory committees were used to develop 11 biophysical operational principles and four socio-economic, cultural and management feasibility operational principles. These principles clarified the planning 'rules' up front for all to see and apply before any new zones were proposed.
• The biophysical operational principles included recommendations for minimum No-Take Areas for each bioregion and each known habitat type. Given the uncertainty about what amounts would be adequate for effective conservation, the recommendations were considered to be the minimum, in the context of global experience. The social, economic, cultural and management feasibility principles aimed to maximise complementarity of zoning with human uses and values.
• The biophysical principles included advice on the size, shape and definition of protected zones to achieve biological objectives such as connectivity and to facilitate public understanding and compliance. The biophysical principles also provided a sound basis against which to assess the final extent of protection in No-Take Zones.
• Integrated approaches. A combination of expert opinion, stakeholder involvement and analytical approaches were used to identify options for possible zoning networks. The linking of science, technical support and community participation was an essential three-way dynamic in the planning process. The analytical tools applied included marine reserve design software, adapted and expanded for use in the RAP, and a suite of GIS-based spatial analysis tools. The analytical software enabled the GBRMPA to integrate a number of data layers representing biophysical, social and economic values, and enabled a number of zoning options to be generated and assessed.
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