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Systematic Approach in Developing Spatially Explicit Freshwater Conservation Plan

by on March 25, 2012

Tulisan ini dibuat sebagai bagian dari studi saya di Monash South Africa dan membahas pendekatan sistematis dalam proses perencanaan konservasi freshwater yang eksplisit secara spasial. Afrika Selatan adalah sebuah negara berkembang yang mampu mencapai prestasi yang sangat baik dalam bidang pengelolaan air minum (tidak lagi air bersih): 97% populasi terkoneksi dan bisa diminum dari kran. Selain itu, Afrika Selatan juga menjadi salah satu yang terdepan dalam konservasi terestrial dan laut, lalu sekarang menjadi pionir dalam systematic freshwater conservation–sebuah bidang yang baru muncul sekitar satu dekade lalu.


Freshwater conservation is about dedicating water for environment to achieve long-term goals of ensuring water availability in terms of quantity and quality. It benefits water supply treatment economically by minimizing cost to treat source water and technically by reducing maintenance cost.Compared to terrestrial and marine conservation, freshwater conservation approach calls for departure from physically confined notion and embodiment of conservation area, of which Dudgeon et. al. (2007) called it as ‘fortress conservation’. This article explores the possibility of developing a freshwater conservation area, with its complex dendritic structure which is non-linear and networked rather than planar, under systematic approach.

Understanding the Systematic Approach to Conservation Planning

Pioneered by its application in terrestrial ecosystems, systematic conservation planning is formally initiated in the 1980s (Kirkpatrick 1983; and Ackery and Vane-Wright 1984 in Pressey 1999) and afterward triggered prolific academic publications, with R.L. Pressey as one of the central proponents. Previously, conservation biology relied heavily on pragmatic experts skill and experience. Concomitant with technological improvement, systematic conservation planning critically deconstructs and decentralizes knowledge of experts into a protocol of structured form of scientific field by minimizing biases with sets of applicable toolkits, characterized by its efficiency and explicitness. It embraces the equality of features, be it ecological landscape or species.

Margules and Pressey (2000) delineated distinctive characteristics of systematic conservation planning: clear options of surrogates of overall biodiversity; based on explicit goals translated into quantitative and operational targets; recognizing achievement of conservation goals in existing reserves; simple and explicit methodology for locating and designing new reserves as complement to existing; explicit criteria for implementation by considering the impossibility of protection of all areas; and explicit objective and mechanism for maintenance. Roux et. al. (2002) applied those distinct features of systematic approach for river types and processes as contiguous ecological unit linked with terrestrial area prioritization, which was considered as the first inception of peer-reviewed article of freshwater systematic approach by Linke et. al. (2011). Nel et al. (2009) catered three overarching principles of systematic approach for freshwater conservation: representation, conserving the wide spectrum of biodiversity features using surrogate as medium for indicating freshwater biodiversity in coarse (broad) and fine (narrow) scale; persistence, maintaining innateness of natural processes that support and generate biodiversity; setting quantitative targets, tangibility of conservation goals.

There are 6 standard stages in the process of systematic conservation planning described in detail by Margules and Pressey (2000): first stage, data compilation, measurement and map biodiversity; second stage, identify conservation goals for the planning region; third stage, review existing reserves; fourth stage; select additional reserves; fifth stage, implement conservation actions on the ground; sixth stage, management and monitoring of reserves. Based on a conservation project in Cape Floristic Region, South Africa, Pressey and Cowling (2003) added 3 additional preliminary stages: identifying potential stakeholders for active participation; assessment of socioeconomic and political context to identify opportunity and constraint for implementation; and identification of broader conservation goals which has been formulated in policy or by experts.

Opportunism is a global tendency to allocate space for conservation in non-primary location due to external pressures, for instance ad-hoc political pragmatism, and systematic approach is an empirical way to move beyond it (Pressey et. al. 2003). Under the criticism of “uninformed opportunism” by Knight and Cowling (2007), which stressed out the dilemma of competition between value of land-use for conservation versus other economically valuable purposes as an unforeseen threats, Pressey and Bottrill (2008) developed a larger framework with 2 additional preliminary steps: scoping and costing of the planning process; and collecting and evaluating socio-economic data.

Systematic conservation plan for freshwater ecosystems is a relatively new field which was developed since about a decade ago and formerly was being criticized for its strong but thirst data-driven `approach. Linke et. al. (2011) argued that progress in data collection and modelling is able to cope with and surpass that problem. Nonetheless, considering the complex non-linear and networked nature of freshwater ecosystems, there should be an adaptation on steps in developing a systematic conservation plan. These steps embrace the principles of systematic approach for freshwater conservation by including plan for representation, persistence, and setting quantitative conservation targets, incorporated under the nature of freshwater ecosystem: dendritic and networked connectivity.

The Purpose of Developing Spatially Explicit Conservation Plans

Developing spatially explicit conservation plans is part of the larger steps of systematic conservation planning, which will be described further and focused on freshwater context, whether fresh or saline. Thanks to the development of geodetic and geomatics technology, geographic information system and remote sensing, as an elemental tool in analyzing and presenting explicit spatial planning, support direct field observation, which has been done mostly in the past by expert who are prone to geographical and taxonomical biases (Margulles and Pressey 2000). Spatially Explicit Population Models (SEPM), which was developed in the 1990s for terrestrial uses, interpreted ‘explicit’ as combination of  population prediction with landscape map, aimed to describe spatial distribution of different features based on life cycle and migratory patterns of different species (Dunning et al. 1995). Taylor et al. (1993) proposed connectivity, a measurement of facilitation or impediment of natural organism movement in a certain landscape, as a vital element of spatial explicitness. Margules and Pressey (2000) elaborated such explicitness within the structured framework for systematic conservation planning and argued that, with its distinctive characteristics, explicit methodological approach produces explicit conservation plans. Subsequently, Pressey (2004) argued that explicitness is the essence of systematic conservation planning, rather than objectivity. It is more about clarity of conservation plans by reflecting the principles of representativeness, persistence, and quantitative targeting.

Conservation plans are the result of planning activity which contain the constant process of identification, configuration, implementation, maintenance, management, and monitoring and evaluation of certain areas (Margulles and Pressey 2000; Pressey et al. 2007). Given socioeconomic limitations, it is impossible to conserve all species and ecosystems. Specific space should be given higher priority compared to other areas to conserve biodiversity at the scale of intra- and inter-regional level (Ferrier 2002). At the same time, prioritization should consider connectivity of abiotic (spatial structure) and biotic components in longitudinal, lateral, and vertical orientation (Figure 1) which are substantive for freshwater ecosystems (Nel et al. 2009). Although the degree of spatial bias affects reliability of spatial model, Pressey et al. (2007) argued that spatiality is built-in element in conservation planning. Hence an explicit spatial prioritization is imperative to achieve the most optimum scenario—cost effectiveness and saving time—in the decision making of conservation planning. Nel et. al. (2009) highlighted the concept of complementarity, iterative contribution of additional site or set of areas to biodiversity content, as a means of optimization. Technically, the purpose of developing spatially explicit conservation plan is to achieve optimization and connectivity between different features of ecosystem and species.

Practically, using best available science, spatially explicit conservation planning is useful as guidance for different parties involved along the social process, increasing effectiveness of freshwater conservation (Roux et al. 2008). With its clarity, it serves as visually aesthetic and easily digested materials particularly for non-expert audiences. Moreover, spatially explicit conservation plans provide an opportunity for evaluation and refinement in the future by involving strategic stakeholders.


Systematic conservation planning is not a universal remedy, free from uncertainties. Systematic conservation planning requires careful consideration of connectivity and integrity of freshwater with terrestrial and marine species and ecology which are embedded with uncertainties of spatiotemporal effects (Pressey et. al. 2007; Nel et al. 2009; Linke et al. 2011). It requires a more holistic, cradle-to-grave approach. A valuable exercise has been done on the hypothetical redesign of Kruger National Park in which a conservation area might be developoed terrestrially in the past without the availability of knowledge about interrelationship of different spatial features but there is a possibility to recreate and redefine conservation area in which freshwater ecosystem seams the spatial realm, of course, with a socio-economic and political trade-offs (Roux et. al. 2008). In the word of Margules and Pressey (2000): “New developments (in all the planning stages) will progressively reduce, but never eliminate, these uncertainties.”


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