A six-year collaboration between the Malaysian Government and CEED researchers from the University of Queensland has resulted in the creation of Malaysia's biggest marine protected area.
CEED research associate Dr Carissa Klein said the marine region at the northern tip of Borneo was globally significant for its marine life and diverse habitats including coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass, and threatened species including dugong, and sea turtles.
"We taught the World Wildlife Fund-Malaysia and Sabah Parks to use Marxan, an environmental mathematical decision software package we developed, to help create the region's 898,000-hectare Tun Mustapha Park," Dr Klein said.
"The region is home to more than 187,000 people, about half of whom depend on marine resources for their livelihood and wellbeing.
"Our Marxan with Zones software I is an advanced version of the original software that informed the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef.
"This software allowed us to use the information provided by local communities to help decide what areas should be protected and what areas should remain open for different kinds of fishing."
WWF-Malaysia lead marine scientist Robecca Jumin said Marxan amalgamated several complex datasets to provide a starting point for negotiations about zone boundaries in the marine park.
ARC CEED Director Professor Hugh Possingham said the analysis identified priority areas which were then reviewed by the Malaysian Government and local communities.
"This resulted in a plan which has just been declared," Professor Possingham said.
UQ researchers Dr Klein, Dr Maria Beger, Ms Jennifer McGowan, Dr Chris Brown (now Griffith Uni), Mr Matt Watts, Professor Hugh Possingham and Dr Hedley Grantham from the Wildlife Conservation Society have supported the Sabah Parks through the Malaysian Government to develop the zoning plan.
Image: WWF-Malaysia/Eric Madeja