Melanesian Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Assets

How do we adequately and cost-effectively describe and assess linked terrestrial-marine conservation assets in Melanesia to guide effective natural resource management?

What did the project do?

The project developed methods to identify and assess the status of coastal and marine ecosystem assets in Melanesia, and describe the processes that sustain or threaten them, including the processes linking these assets with the terrestrial system

The study focused on Milne Bay, PNG; and in particular, the catchment of Mullins Harbour, which is the focus of a related CSIRO-Conservation International project to produce a Natural Resource Management Plan for that catchment (CSIRO-CI Demonstration Sites Project).

More specifically, the project aims were to:

  • Develop hierarchical classification methodologies for characterising the linked terrestrial and marine system in Milne Bay. This task would produce a general description of the region, including its broad regional biophysical/climatic drivers, the variety of islands and environment types together with their associated biophysical processes, and the key ecological features in each of the regional subsystems.
  • Outline an integrated framework for identifying and mapping coastal and near-shore ecosystem assets (features, habitats or species) in the context of physical processes and biotic interactions that typify the terrestrial-marine interface. Ecosystem assets will include a “first cut” assessment of values (i.e. using broadly accepted global values such as biodiversity, species or habitat rarity, subsistence and economic resources etc) that will then be road tested by a panel of PNG NRM experts.
  • Produce spatial predictions of climate change impacts for Milne Bay.  This task downscaled use available global and regional climate change impact models to produce spatial predictions of likely impacts to Milne Bay.
  • Outline a framework for scenario building and tradeoffs. This task identified drivers/stressors to the systems identified, and developed a suitable framework for assessing vulnerability/risk to ecosystem assets based on a range of possible impact scenarios.

What did the project produce?

The project produced information products suitable for use in participatory frameworks appropriate for natural resource management and planning in Melanesia, including:

  • A framework for describing linked terrestrial marine systems in Melanesia.
  • Guidelines for identifying ecosystem assets in Melanesia.
  • A preliminary method for assessing the vulnerability of the conservation assets to pressures in the region.
  • A case study report for Milne Bay and Mullins Harbour including:
    a) Conceptual models of linked terrestrial marine systems
    b) A range of data, diagrams and maps that identifies assets and threats
    c) Scenarios of likely impacts including from for climate change.

Note: based on discussions with stakeholder groups, the Mullins Harbour case study was removed in favour of a Milne bay wide priority setting exercise.

How can the project make a difference to development?

The formulation of generic methods, information products and participatory frameworks that the research feeds into, are part of a long term process (5+ years) of building capacity among local government planners and managers in Melanesia.  The project worked closely with a conservation planning facilitator in Milne Bay to ensure feedback into the design reflects the information needs of local government planners across relevant natural resource agencies (e.g. environment, fisheries, forestry, agriculture).  This work served as a pilot for wider application to other tropical Pacific Island regions and SE Asia.


Melanesian coastal and marine ecosystem assets final report: assessment framework and Milne Bay case study, 2011

Workshop report: Sustainable Futures for Milne Bay, 27–28 April 2009

Butler, JRA, Skewes, T, Mitchell D, Pontio M and Hills T. (2014) Stakeholder perceptions of ecosystem service declines in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea: Is human population a more critical driver than climate change? Marine Policy, 46:1-13.