A computer program which helps efficiently map Nature Reserves and Marine Protected Areas has put the Australian Antarctic Division’s Ian Ball in the running for a prestigious Eureka Science Prize.

Marxan software, developed by Dr Ball, applies mathematical optimisation techniques to design reserves and marine protected areas taking into account a range of ecological, social and economic criteria.

“Information on a particular area is entered into the software which can then objectively identify the best design for a reserve, balancing conservation and socio-economic needs,” Dr Ball said.

The software is now the most widely used conservation planning tool in the world, with more than 2600 users in over 100 countries.

“Marxan has been used in the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and by The Nature Conservancy in the United States,” Dr Ball said.

“As a mathematician I am just really pleased to be able to develop something that has practical environmental results.”

Dr Ball and his colleagues, Professor Hugh Possingham and Matthew Watts — both from the University of Queensland — are finalists in the Research and Innovation category of the Environmental Research prize.

The winner will be announced at a gala dinner in Sydney on August 18.