A one-day forum was held in Hobart in October 2017 to establish a MPA Science/Management network, and undertake the first formal meeting of the network. The forum was attended by representatives of MPA science and management agencies from most Australian States and the Commonwealth, in response to a long-recognised need for sharing of information and experience across agencies, and to facilitate cooperation, collaboration, standardisation and integration, particularly with respect to monitoring/inventory programs. In addition to sharing information about MPA management on a State-by-State basis, a range of discussions centred around how various agencies matched monitoring programs with management needs, and the extent to which these were driven by formal analysis of risks, values and pressures. Currently these range from the detailed state-wide risk assessment recently undertaken by NSW, and a similar program in the GBR (RIMREP) by the GBRMPA, through to Tasmania, where there are no formal MPA management and monitoring policies in place. The value of building socio-economic studies into the management information framework (and including socio-economic researchers in the network/forum) was discussed, and some examples from South Australian studies highlighted the value of well-targeted socio-economic information for network management.
A range of updates on nationally important programs applicable to MPA management and research were presented and discussed. These included: development of nationally consistent standard operating protocols for typical monitoring methods (to aid in national integration); development of a range of national working groups (e.g. AUV, BRUV and MBES) to facilitate uptake of SOPs and aid collaboration and integration of programs; the Essential Environmental Measures Program (and how it aids integration of information for SOE reporting); development of national shared databases (Squidle + and Global Archive), and the need to improve this area where it is currently failing (e.g. MBES data management and sharing). The new Seamap Australia website was also showcased, where all available habitat maps (digitised polygons in habitat classes) from coastal and shelf waters can be viewed.
Finally, the formation of an ongoing network and forum was discussed. The aim is to address the recognised need by developing a similar structure to the National Estuaries Network and associated annual forum. After much discussion around the broad or narrow focus of the forum it was decided to start as the narrower MPA Science Management Network (and forum) and assess options for broadening the focus through time. The initial intent is for the network itself to consist of a core of representatives from State and national MPA management agencies and associated major science providers. The network would hold biannual meetings, one by phone/online and one at an annual, one day, face-to-face meeting. As per the National Estuaries Network, the annual one day meeting would be followed by a one day open forum, with a specific topic each year, and open to the wider community to attend. The annual meeting/forum, would be hosted by a different State each year, and organisation/leadership each year would be led by the host State organisation. Next year’s first formal network meeting and forum is proposed for Hobart, with support from the Marine Biodiversity Hub to initiate the process.