An integrated environmental risk assessment and management framework for enhancing the sustainability of marine protected areas: The Cape d'Aguilar Marine Reserve case study in Hong Kong
Marine protected areas (MPAs), such as marine parks and reserves, contain natural resources of immense value to the environment and mankind. Since MPAs may be situated in close proximity to urbanized areas and influenced by anthropogenic activities (e.g. continuous discharges of contaminated waters), the marine organisms contained in such waters are probably at risk. This study aimed at developing an integrated environmental risk assessment and management (IERAM) framework for enhancing the sustainability of such MPAs. The IERAM framework integrates conventional environmental risk assessment methods with a multi-layer-DPSIR (Driver–Pressure–State–Impact–Response) conceptual approach, which can simplify the complex issues embraced by environmental management strategies and provide logical and concise management information. The IERAM process can generate a useful database, offer timely update on the status of MPAs, and assist in the prioritization of management options. We use the Cape d'Aguilar Marine Reserve in Hong Kong as an example to illustrate the IERAM framework. A comprehensive set of indicators were selected, aggregated and analyzed using this framework. Effects of management practices and programs were also assessed by comparing the temporal distributions of these indicators over a certain timeframe. Based on the obtained results, we have identified the most significant components for safeguarding the integrity of the marine reserve, and indicated the existing information gaps concerned with the management of the reserve. Apart from assessing the MPA's present condition, a successful implementation of the IERAM framework as evocated here would also facilitate better-informed decision-making and, hence, indirectly enhance the protection and conservation of the MPA's marine biodiversity.