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