Understanding regulatory frameworks for large marine protected areas: Permits of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Increasing numbers of large marine protected areas (LMPAs) are being added to the global conservation estate, raising new challenges for marine social-ecological management and biodiversity conservation. To better understand the importance of spatial heterogeneity and scale in managing LMPAs, we undertook a quantitative, spatially explicit analysis of permit data from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We geo-registered 10,030 permissions from 7478 permits for the period 2007–2017, extracted the information into a 2 × 2 km grid, aggregated the data into six different permission types and explored spatial patterns by permission type and numbers. Permission numbers of different types were all strongly and significantly correlated; access and transport permissions were the most numerous. Commercial harvesting permission numbers were negatively correlated with those for research and education, but not for tourism. Apart from research permissions, the influence of the immediate biophysical environment (coral reefs, proximity to shore) at this scale was low; permission numbers were more influenced by proximity to towns and population density. There was also a broad-scale latitudinal effect, with higher permission numbers in the south, independent of the human geography variables that we measured. Permit numbers have been increasing exponentially over the last decade and show no sign of declining. More generally, our analysis shows how permit data can inform the management activities and needs of LMPAs, while potentially providing a window into long-term shifts in user demands and changing management needs for conservation.