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Designing Climate-Resilient Marine Protected Area Networks

Decision making for the conservation and management of coral reef biodiversity requires an understanding of spatial variability and distribution of reef habitat types. GFS members Joseph Maina and Kendall Jones, in collaboration with WCS Kenya, recently developed the first high resolution coral reef habitat maps for the entire Kenyan coastline. These maps were used to evaluate the effectiveness of present management areas at representing coral reef habitat diversity.

Unlike other regions where Marine Spatial Planning is a fairly common practice, this is one of the first marine spatial prioritisations in the region, where high dependence on marine resources is a major impediment to the design, implementation and the success of MPA network. We also explored three spatial prioritisation scenarios based on differing objectives: (i) minimise lost fishing opportunity; (ii) redistribute fisheries away from currently overfished reefs; and (iii) minimise resource use conflicts. Using a model of exposure to climate stress, we also explored the effect of prioritising to protect reefs which are either the most or least exposed to climate stress. We discovered that spatial priorities were very different based on the different objectives and on whether the aim was to protect the least or most climate-exposed habitats. These results show that conservation planners in this region need to have clear aims for a protected area system, as there are very few "win-win" areas, which were important in all planning scenarios. Our analyses provide a spatially explicit foundation for large-scale conservation and management strategies that can account for ecosystem service benefits.

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