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Analysing spatial priorities for the Asia Pacific Region

The Asia Pacific Priority Setting (APPS) workshop was held in Singapore from June 20-22. Jointly organized by CI's Asia Pacific Field Division, the Moore Centre and the University of Adelaide, with support from the Lui-Walton Fellows program, the workshop brought together 33 CI field practitioners and scientists, as well as external partners.

Rachel Neugarten giving an introduction to the APPS workshop.

The objective of the workshop was to identify places in Asia Pacific that are the most important for biodiversity, ecosystem services and the long-term sustainability of the region.

As development, rising consumption and climate change increases pressure on natural resources across this biologically, culturally and economically diverse region, it is important to identify potential new areas that require conservation attention and investment.

CI Vice President Tracy Farrell marking out priority areas on a map.

As an organization based on science, CI has a long history of spatial priority setting – the process of identifying conservation priorities based on data and stakeholder input – beginning with Biodiversity Hotspots and continuing through Key Biodiversity Area identification and Priority Setting Workshops in the 1990s and 2000s.

Maps of spatial priorities provide scientifically-based information useful for a variety of purposes, such as internal strategic planning, providing guidance to governments and local communities to influence spatial planning, protected area network design, influencing policy and boosting donor confidence.

The questions we asked during the workshop included:

  • What are the key fundraising and policy opportunities for conservation in the region that could be informed by maps of priority places?
  • What should be considered a priority when considering an investment?
  • This includes biodiversity, ecosystem services, protected areas, land tenure and governance for example.
  • How can we ensure we work in places with natural resources essential to both biodiversity and human well-being, to achieve the most impact?
  • Where can we get the data we require? How can we best integrate these data layers? What tools can we use, and who can best advise on these?
Workshop participants deep in discussion during a breakout session.

All participants had the opportunity to provide input on the questions above, to form the basis of the priority setting analysis. A challenge was trying to identify a short list of priorities, as there are diverse values in the region including marine, terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity; ecosystems and the diverse benefits they provide such as climate resilience, food security, supplies of fresh water, cultural values, livelihoods and many others. Many of these values are interconnected.

There is a growing wealth of data and information available from remote sensing and scientific research on nature and the many values it provides to people and economic development. In some cases, data sets are still unavailable, or are not sufficiently detailed for mapping priorities, and therefore CI scientists will seek to collaborate with researchers to fill data gaps through, for example, spatial analysis and ecosystem service modeling.

We held break-out groups to maximize discussions before putting our heads together to discuss how to best approach the priority setting exercise. Some topics discussed in detail were: terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity, climate adaptation and mitigation, fisheries, agriculture, governance and cultural services.

Lian Pin Koh, CI's Lui-Walton Research and Innovation Fellow and a University of Adelaide Professor, introduced an exciting plan that will help the priority-setting process both in CI and for other conservation practitioners regionally: a "Flexi-Tool" that will enable users to overlay maps and enable customized identification of conservation priorities across the Asia Pacific region. Once developed, the tool would quickly provide the information needed to make sound conservation investments while reducing the resources required for data analysis and processing.

Another key member of the APPS team, Ms. Tasya Sarira, is contributing to this work as part of her PhD research at the University of Adelaide. Tasya is supported by both CI and the University.

Lian Pin Koh, Rachel Neugarten and Tasya Sarira.

We also had the privilege to have partners from NASA-SERVIR, the Wildlife Conservation Society and CSIRO in Australia graciously share their work on priority setting and conservation. Through this workshop, we gained a better understanding of the field's priorities as our "boots on the ground." The team is now sorting through and analyzing available spatial data in close consultation with advisors that we have identified throughout CI and partner institutions, to Identify the next generation of conservation priorities in the region.

We look forward to sharing the results with you in the coming months.

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