Marxan, the world's most popular conservation planning software has just made landfall in Barcelona, Spain. She wasn't on holiday (Marxan's creators like to think of the program as 'she'), she was there for work, being introduced to a group of postgraduate students, postdoctoral researchers, conservation practitioners and academics from France, Italy, Spain, Ecuador and South Africa. The introductory Marxan workshop will hopefully lead to better environmental decision-making in all of these countries.
"This is the first time the 'Spatial Conservation Planning with Marxan' course has ever been run in Barcelona," says Ayesha Tulloch, a CEED Postdoctoral Fellow at the Australian National University. "The five-day course provided the participants with the knowledge necessary to use Marxan, as well as advanced skills in applying systematic conservation-planning software to solve different kinds of conservation problems."
Marxan is more than a single software program [insert link to Marxan prospectus], it's a suite of decision-support tools originally designed by Ian Ball and Hugh Possingham in 2000. Its flexibility and ease of use (not to mention the fact that it is free) has made it the world's most-used software for supporting the design of marine and terrestrial reserves and allocating scarce conservation resources.
The course in Spain is part of an ongoing program of Marxan introductions that has seen the international community of Marxan-users blossom. Over 7000 environmental professionals in more than 180 countries are regularly using Marxan. Its application has influenced how humans manage 5% of the Earth's surface.
The course in Barcelona was run by Ayesha with her twin sister, Vivitskaia, a CEED Doctoral student at the University of Queensland. The course was supported by Transmitting Science (www.transmittingscience.org), a Spanish science education company established to improve the science capacity of the region.
"It was fantastic presenting the course in Barcelona to such an eager and diverse audience," says Ayesha. "Using both marine and terrestrial conservation planning examples and hands-on exercises from CEED research, we showed participants how to solve important basic planning problems of where to place protected areas given limited conservation budgets.
"Participants then went on to solve more advanced and realistic planning problems of deciding where to undertake different management actions when there are multiple objectives such as achieving both biodiversity protection and minimizing the loss of income to local stakeholders such as farmers or fishers."
Using MarZone, one of the advanced applications of Marxan, participants were able to identify configurations of sites that contribute to a range of management objectives by accommodating different types of activities. Participants were excited by the range in functionality of MarZone for supporting their own local and regional planning problems, including research along the Mediterranean coastline to achieve a balance of protection and economic objectives in the face of competing fishing, development and extraction.
"One problem we constantly have to deal with in environmental decision making is uncertainty," says Vivitskaia. "When trying to decide where we should protect or manage declining biodiversity we are often uncertain where exactly the species are located, and how different threatening processes such as climate change, infrastructure development or invasive species, might impact them.
"In our course we allowed participants a first-ever glimpse of exciting new ways to incorporate uncertainty in our data or in threats into decisions using 'Marxan with Probability'."
In addition to forming valuable new collaborations between CEED and academics from around the world, workshop participants went away with a broad suite of tools for addressing different types of planning problems, and a new passion for more effective environmental decision making.