Project Summary

This project has two objectives:

  1. to provide a spatial explicit analysis of the relative risks posed to marine conservation values, as defined by the natural values hierarchy of Park Australia’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement (MERI) framework, by pressures that operate within Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone and state/territory waters (a “hotspots” analysis); and,

  2. provide a proof of concept of an adaptive, probabilistic assessment of the cumulative risks posed to these values, in a region determined to support the Parks Australia MERI project D7, in a manner that is consistent with the seascape-scale cumulative assessment described in the “Guidelines for analysis of cumulative impacts and risks to the Great Barrier Reef” (developed and tested with Commonwealth, State and Industry stakeholders in project E1).

    The relative risk assessment will provide interval-scale risk estimates – also known as semi-quantitative risk estimates - that are meaningful when compared within a study, e.g. between locations within the study’s geographic scope, but are not calibrated to observable outcomes in nature. The methodology will be based on the approach developed and applied during phase 2 of the Northern Marine Bioregion (project A12) and similar approaches in the published literature.

    The probabilistic risk assessment will provide a proof of concept of a fully quantitative risk assessment, providing risk estimates on a ratio scale that are calibrated with, and hence can be compared to, observed outcomes in nature and between all bioregions. The methodology will build on the approaches developed and applied during phase 2 of the Northern Marine Bioregion (project A12) by using elicitation methods developed by the project team for the Bioregional Assessments to quantify the (often) non-linear response of values to cumulative pressures.

    Delivering these two objectives will synthesize existing data and information for Australia’s EEZ and state/territory waters, using the approaches developed in hub projects A12, C1 and E1. The project’s deliverables do not depend on the collection of new data, nor updating species distribution records or models, but will access the many types of information generated by the Marine Biodiversity Hub since 2007.

    The project will deliver nationally but will utilise the natural conservation values, developed by Park’s Australia for the MERI framework. It will also work with Parks Australia to align their pressure categorisation and nomenclature with the pressure profiles developed by the hub. Aligning the description of values and pressures used by the project and Park’s Australia’s MERI framework will ensure that projects outputs are directly applicable to Park Australia and complimentary to the new project A7, that is supporting articulation of their new framework. Without the synthesis of information and risks provided through this project, the Hub will be unable to support articulation of the MERI framework to the extent that we expect to be needed.

    The final product from this project will be based on the best available information. Rather than an endpoint itself, we anticipate that the output will define the start (following appropriate discussion) of an iterative process that will assess the risks and their cumulative impact on the natural values in the EEZ and state/territory waters, supporting the management of all MNES, areas of the marine environment outside MNES, and reporting for State of Environment and other needs.

    Project Description

    Objective (i): National “hotspots” maps.

    To meet the first objective the project will primarily build upon existing data collations completed in several recent NESP products (Figure 1), including the:

  1. the collation and mapping of pressures in Australia’s EEZ and state/waters developed by the Hub in projects C1, C5, E2, E4 and D6, thereby including the more recent layers covering noise, small vessels and recreational use. This will be added to with State and Territory Fisheries commercial fisheries data (final deliverable for project C1), assuming that relevant authorities provide the necessary permissions;

  2. the mapping and description of natural values, as defined in the MERI framework, through the base-line surveys of Australian Marine Parks (MBH project D3) and the description and mapping of reefs on the continental shelf - a distinct group of Key Ecological features described in Australian Governments Marine Bioregional Plans (with mapping and characterisation undertaken by MBH project D3);

  3. the collation of spatial products based on (typically) multi-beam sonar acquired data describing benthic habitats around the Australian shelf (coordinated by MBH project D3 and provided through Seamap Australia (;

  4. the modelling of key species distributions in Northern Australia (MBH Project A12); and,

  5. the detailed conceptual modelling of value/pressure interactions in the North marine bioregion (MBH Project A12) using signed directed graphs and Qualitative Mathematical models.

    The relative risk assessment will use a weighted sum of pressures to determine relative risks, with weights determined by the sensitivity of natural values to individual pressures It will reflect, and be informed by, the rapid risk assessments that have already been completed by Parks Australia for the MERI framework.

    This part of the project does not depend on access to, nor generation of, new data products, although to conduct a national “hotspots” analysis across all of the EEZ and state/territory waters the project may need to extend the geographical scope of some of the NESP products described above (e.g. state and territories commercial fisheries data).

    A project go/no-go workshop will be held early in the project (second project milestone) in collaboration with Parks Australia, to assess the availability and coverage of all pressure and value data shapefiles, to determine if there is sufficient information to proceed as planned. In the event that the available data is deemed sufficient the project will produce national ‘hotspots’ maps (provided as GIS products and summarised in the project final report) that indicate the relative risk from each mapped pressure on natural values in Commonwealth and state/territory water.

    The maps will show ‘stacked’ pressures and include weights that reflect the severity of the interaction with Parks Australia’s values relative to our parks. The map will use grey colours to indicate where no data currently exists. A colour scheme (with a small amount of transparency) will be used where known (mapped) values are interacting with known (mapped) pressures. Opaque colours (with higher levels of transparency) will be used in those areas where the presence/absence of values or intensity of pressures are considered uncertain.

    A similar effect to reflect uncertainty can be achieved by weighting the pressure/value interactions. The project will explore this possibility. The Department’s ability to manage particular pressures in AMPs can also be considered in the weighting applied to specific

    values and pressures interactions when generating the map. For example, in the simplest case assigning a weight of 0 to pressures that Parks Australia deems it cannot manage will immediately emphasise those locations where management of pressures is possible.

    Finally, with or without data on values, a stacked pressure map will still provide Parks Australia a means of prioritising monitoring in parks (and other values of interest to Department) yet to be inventoried.

    The project’s output will provide users the ability to compare impacts of individual or cumulative pressures throughout Commonwealth and state/territory waters on conservation values, and importantly will provide the necessary context to correctly interpret and regionally based analysis of cumulative impacts within one or more AMPs.

    The project will demonstrate this use case by providing a Narrative resulting from the analysis for a single marine region, delivered as either a written summary and/or or as information (attribute tables) that can be interrogated and possibly summarised through the Wylie reporting function (contingent on Wylie capability and available data).

    The regional focus of the Narrative, and its content will be agreed in consultation with Parks Australia and other interested Departmental parties, but would likely include: (i) commentary on how hotspots compare inside and outside of parks within the marine region, with accompanying graphs; (ii) comparison of hotspots relative to zones within the Parks; (iii) a description of the different pressure/value interactions that may lead to similar looking hotspots (for different reasons); and (iv) recommendations about where future research is needed on the location or status of values, the presence and intensity of pressures, or the nature of specific pressure/value interactions.

    Objective (ii): Probabilistic assessment of the cumulative risks posed to natural values in a selected marine region.

    The second objective is designed to show how it is possible to move from qualitative estimates of risks (that can’t be compared between studies) to quantitative estimates that can be compared and summarised nationally. This part of the project will use the recent advances in expert elicitation and cumulative impact modelling, developed and implemented by members of the project team for the Bioregional Assessments (and are not therefore dependent on further outcomes of Project E1). These methods enable quantitative (absolute) cumulative risk estimates to be made within a probabilistic adaptive, framework (see for additional details).

    With input from the Parks Australia, the project will nominate a set of locations (e.g. within one or more IUCN zones of one or two AMPs) within a defined region and make testable predictions about the probability that selected, measurable, environmental values at these nominated locations will be in a particular condition after an agreed period of time (risk assessment endpoint) accounting for the range of known pressures affecting these locations, their interaction and cumulative impact.

    The nominated locations (prediction sites) will be chosen to allow the effect of management interventions to be assessed by choosing sites across two or more Australian Marine Park (AMP) zones or boundaries. If sufficient data exists for the selected sites and assessment endpoints the project will demonstrate how the predictions can be updated (using standard, well-established, Bayesian statistical inference methods) in light of this information and provide a more in-depth analysis of the effect of pressures at the AMP sites.

    The output from this part of the project will be a product that will show users how likely it is that agreed thresholds for measurable characteristics of a selected set of natural values within selected AMPs will be exceeded within the time frame of the analysis, for example the 5-year period between SOE reports. This will provide an absolute measure of managed (contingent on the prediction site selection) and unmanaged risk, and thereby enable the user to measure the risk reduction benefits of alternative marine environmental management measures. The project will work closely with Parks Australia in the delivery stage for this objective to ensure that the outputs have direct relevance to implementation of the MERI framework.