What are Biologically Important Areas of Regionally Significant Marine Species?
Biologically important areas (BIAs) are spatially defined areas where aggregations of individuals of a species are known to display biologically important behaviour such as breeding, foraging, resting or migration.
Biologically important areas are a new data construct designed to assist decision-making under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). BIA maps and descriptions are available in the Conservation Values Atlas.
How are BIAs identified?
BIAs were first identified on a regional basis as they were developed as part of the Marine Bioregional Plans.
BIAs have been identified using expert scientific knowledge about species’ distribution, abundance and behaviour in the region. The presence of the observed behaviour is assumed to indicate that the habitat required for the behaviour is also present. The selection of species for which biologically important areas have been identified was informed by the availability of scientific information, the conservation status of listed species and the importance of the region for the species.
The process for identifying biologically important areas involves mapping proposed areas digitally, based on expert advice and published literature, then obtaining independent scientific review of the maps and descriptions of the proposed areas.
The level of certainty attached to a biologically important area has two dimensions:
- the certainty of the species’ occurrence
- the certainty of the behaviour occurring.
There are two classes of presence: known to occur and likely to occur. The strongest certainty in a BIA would be one where it is known that the species occurs in a particular area and it is known that the species displays a specific behaviour. A lesser certainty would be one in which the species is likely to occur in the area and is likely to display the behaviour.
Known biologically important area is an area where the species is known to occur and includes areas where there have been confirmed sightings or robust records of the species exhibiting a biologically important behaviour in that area (i.e. sourced from observations or satellite tracking etc).
Likely biologically important area is an area where the species is likely to exhibit a biologically important behaviour in that area. Likely biologically important areas have been identified on the basis of extrapolations made by scientists:
- about suitable habitat that may support a biologically important behaviour; and
- there is some evidence that the species is likely to be present in the area (e.g. strandings of dead animals on adjacent coastal areas or from fishing records, past observations).
The following caveats should be considered when using BIAs in environmental decision-making or analyses:
- BIA maps do not represent a species’ full range and are different to the distribution maps presented in the species profile and threats database (SPRAT). SPRAT distribution maps indicate the present distribution of the species within Australia and the Commonwealth Marine area. BIAs sit within the areas defined by SPRAT distribution maps, providing more specific spatial information about a species.
- BIAs do not represent a presence/absence dataset; that is, just because a BIA is not identified for a particular area does not mean that the species does not occur in that area.
- BIAs have no legal status. The identification of BIAs has no direct regulatory significance or consequences. They are simply intended to provide biological information to help inform regulatory and management decisions.
- A number of BIAs may overlap sites identified as ‘habitat critical to the survival of the species’ which is required to be identified in species-specific recovery plans (as in the case of the east coast population of the grey nurse shark), but may also be identified for other purposes (e.g. conservation advices). However, the criteria used to identify ‘habitat critical to the survival of the species’ are more complex than those used to identify BIAs.
- BIAs have not been designed to identify protected areas, although they may overlap such areas and could potentially inform such a process. BIAs could also be used to identify information gaps and priortise future research projects on protected species.
- As BIAs are designed to assist decision-making under the EPBC Act they will only be identified within Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
- BIAs have been created for regionally significant marine species, including seabirds, which are protected under the EPBC Act. These are species listed as threatened species (critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, conservation dependent), migratory species, cetaceans or marine species.
Who manages BIAs?
BIA maps and datasets are managed by the Australian Government Department of the Environment (the department). The department creates and maintains BIA maps with assistance from research scientists and others who provide data and review BIA information. The department also maintains the National Conservation Values Atlas.
BIA Species tables
BIA mapping has been undertaken for over 70 species protected under the EPBC Act. The range of species for which BIAs are identified will continue to expand as reliable spatial and scientific information becomes available.
Updating and creating new BIAs
The department welcomes the contribution of new and relevant species information which may improve existing BIAs or lead to the creation of new ones.
The BIA protocol explains how to supply new information to the department for the purposes of creating or updating BIAs of regionally significant marine species.