Research Article: Multi-scale multi-level marine spatial planning: A novel methodological approach applied in South Africa

Date Published: July 3, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Erwann Lagabrielle, Amanda T. Lombard, Jean M. Harris, Tamsyn-Claire Livingstone, Christopher A. Lepczyk.


This study proposes and discusses a multi-scale spatial planning method implemented simultaneously at local and national level to prioritize ecosystem management actions across landscapes and seascapes. Mismatches in scale between the occurrence of biodiversity patterns and ecological processes, and the size and nature of the human footprint, and the different levels and scope of governance, are a significant challenge in conservation planning. These scale mismatches are further confounded by data resolution disparities across and amongst the different scales. To address this challenge, we developed a multi-resolution scale-linked marine spatial planning method. We tested this approach in the development of a Conservation Plan for a significant portion of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone, adjacent to the east coast province of KwaZulu-Natal (the SeaPlan project). The study’s dataset integrated the geographic distribution of 390 biodiversity elements (species, habitats, and oceanographic processes) and 38 human activities. A multi-resolution system of planning unit layers (PUL), with individual PUs ranging in resolution from 0.2 to 10 km, was designed to arrange and analyse these data. Spatial priorities for conservation were selected incrementally at different scales, contributing conservation targets from the fine-, medium- and large-scale analyses, and from the coast to the offshore. Compared to a basic single-resolution scale-unlinked plan, our multi-resolution scale-linked method selects 6% less conservation area to achieve the same targets. Compared to a multi-resolution scale-unlinked plan, our method requires only an additional 5% area. Overall, this method reflects the multi-scale nature of marine social-ecological systems more realistically, is relatively simple and replicable, and serves to better connect fine-scale and large-scale spatial management policies. We discuss the impacts of this study on protected area expansion planning processes in South Africa. This study showcases a methodological advance that has the potential to impact marine spatial planning practices and policies.

Partial Text

Marine spatial planning (MSP) is a decision support process for integrated ocean governance and aims to allocate marine and coastal resources sustainably and efficiently through space and time, to achieve social, economic, strategic and ecological objectives [1]. Within MSP frameworks, the focus of conservation planning is to identify spatial priorities for the protection of natural assets, and to identify spatial contraints for human activities in order to promote the persistence of functional coastal and marine social-ecological systems [2–3]. A key challenge in developing marine spatial management plans that are implementable and lead to action, is the integration of different scales of ecological and social systems [4]. There is growing recognition that conservation planning concepts and tools that address cross-scale dimensions are needed [5] to account for the multiscalar nature of conservation problems and to balance divergent priorities at multiple spatial scales [6]. Spatial conservation planning exercises generally address fine- and large-scale domain in separate planning processes, and social frameworks (e.g. legal, institutional, political) are often poorly integrated across local, national, regional and global scales [7, 8]. Ecosystems, however, are increasingly threatened at all scales [8] whereas local actions can have combined and cumulative impacts at broader scale, and global drivers of change, such as climate-related drivers, affect social-ecological systems locally [9]. Therefore, to maintain adaptive social-ecological systems, societies need to address the challenge of fitting the scale of their conservation actions to the spatial and temporal scale of social-ecological processes [6, 10, 11].

Multi-scale multi-resolution spatial planning is challenging. The methodology developed in this study allows the identification of priority areas for conservation at fine, medium and large scales within a single multi-scale multi-resolution spatial planning framework. The method enables incorporation of diverse biodiversity elements, ecological processes and human use patterns, that occur or operate across different scales and vary across their distribution at different rates, while at the same time maintaining the data resolution integrity for these elements. This approach reflects the multi-scale nature of coupled social and ecological systems.




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