Key elements of a marine bioregional plan
There are a number of new elements presented in Marine Bioregional Plans that will help improve understanding of the marine environment and support better informed decision-making about future development and conservation activities. These elements are as follows:
- Conservation values are defined as those elements of the marine regions that are:
- key ecological features of the Commonwealth marine area
- species listed under Part 13 of the EPBC Act that live in the Commonwealth marine area or for which the Commonwealth marine area is necessary for a part of the life cycle
- protected places including marine reserves, heritage places, shipwrecks and other underwater cultural heritage in the Commonwealth marine area.
- Key ecological features (KEFs) are elements of the Commonwealth marine environment in the marine regions that, based on current scientific understanding, are considered to be of regional importance for either the region's biodiversity or ecosystem function and integrity.
- Regional priorities are key areas of focus that have been identified to inform decision-making about marine conservation and planning, as well as industry development and other human activities. The regional priorities provide context for implementing the government's statutory responsibilities, such as recovery planning for threatened species and the development and implementation of threat abatement measures. They also point to where future government initiatives and future investments in marine conservation, including in research and monitoring, would be best directed. The identification of regional priorities has been guided by the outcomes of the pressure analysis.
- Regional pressure analysis (Schedule 1 of each Marine Bioregional Plan) assessed present and emerging pressures affecting conservation values in the Marine Regions and the effectiveness of mitigation and management arrangements that are currently in place to address these pressures. The analysis enabled pressures to be categorised in terms of their relative importance or concern and has informed the identification of regional conservation priorities and the development of regional advice. For the purpose of the plans, pressures are defined broadly as human-driven processes and events that do or can detrimentally affect the region's conservation values.
- Regional advice has been prepared to assist people planning to undertake activities in Commonwealth marine areas to better understand and comply with their obligations under the EPBC Act, including helping them to decide whether to refer their proposed activity and determine what information would most usefully accompany any referral.
- Biologically important areas are areas where a protected species displays a biologically important behaviours such as breeding, foraging, resting and migration. These areas serve to highlight the parts of a marine region that are particularly important for the conservation of protected species. Both the key ecological features and biologically important areas can be viewed on the Conservation Values Atlas.
Steps in the development of marine bioregional plans
There were five key steps in the preparation of Marine Bioregional Plans.
1. Characterisation of the marine region
Currently available scientific and other information were used to describe the bio-physical environment and socio-economic characteristics of the marine region and its conservation values, including key ecological features, protected places and species and species groups protected by the EPBC Act. This information was combined in a Bioregional Profile for the region.
2. Regional analysis of the conservation values
The pressures potentially affecting conservation values were identified and characterised against a scale of concern in relation to their impacts on the values. The regional pressure analysis was informed by peer reviewed scientific literature and its findings subject to external review by experts in the relevant fields. The outcomes of the regional pressure analysis are described in Schedule 1 and informed both the identification of regional priorities (Part 4) and regional advice on matters of national environmental significance (Schedule 2).
3. Development of regional priorities
The regional pressure analysis assisted in the identification of conservation values that were, or potentially were, adversely affected by multiple pressures, as well as pressures that were impacting on multiple conservation values. Where warranted by the level of concern, these conservation values or pressures have been identified as regional priorities and consideration given to the strategies required to address them (Part 4).
4. Development of regional advice
The regional pressure analysis has also informed the development of regional advice in relation to matters of national environmental significance (Schedule 2). This advice has been prepared to assist people planning to undertake activities in Commonwealth marine areas to better understand and comply with their obligations under the EPBC Act, including helping people to decide whether to refer their proposed activity and determine what information would most usefully accompany any referral.
5. Public consultation on the draft Marine Bioregional Plan
Marine Bioregional Plans were released in draft form for a 90 day public consultation period. The comments received have been taken into account in finalising the plans.
How science was used in the preparation of marine bioregional plans
Marine bioregional plans were developed in consultation with stakeholders and with input from scientists and other experts. There are a number of ways that scientific information is used in the marine bioregional planning process:
- Bioregional Profiles for each marine region were prepared using scientific information about the region's biophysical and socio-economic characteristics and conservation values. In particular, scientists were involved in the identification of key ecological features and the compilation and analysis of data on the biophysical characteristics of each region. When the Bioregional Profiles were publicly released stakeholders, scientists and other experts were asked to identify any information that was missing or had been misinterpreted within them. In this way, the Bioregional Profiles were also important in building the information base for each marine region. The bioregional profiles for each region also include extensive scientific references.
- As draft marine bioregional plans were developed, scientific information was used to assess pressures on the conservation values for each marine region. Scientific information used in assessments included environmental and impact assessment studies, risk assessments, expert advice and research conducted both within Australia and elsewhere. Scientists are also involved in the identification of biologically important areas for marine species.
- In 2011, four draft Marine Bioregional Plans were released, giving scientists and other experts as well as stakeholders and the wider community the opportunity to provide input including identifying new and/or more detailed information that would assist in the completion of the plans. This input helped ensure the final Marine Bioregional Plans are based on accurate information and present a shared understanding of the conservation objectives and priorities within a region.