The Australian Antarctic Division’s Ian Ball has won a prestigious Eureka Science Prize for his conservation planning software program.

The Marxan program helps efficiently map Nature Reserves and Marine Protected Areas taking into account a range of ecological, social and economic criteria.

Dr Ball and his colleagues, Professor Hugh Possingham and Matthew Watts from the University of Queensland, received the Environment Research Prize at a gala dinner in Sydney last night.

“When they announced we had won we were all shocked, you could have knocked me over with a feather,” Dr Ball said.

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

In 2004, the program was used to help rezone the Great Barrier Reef, increasing the size of the Marine Park from 5% to 33% of the region.

“I hope this prize will help raise the profile of Marxan and encourage more international conservation groups to use the software to help protect fragile ecosystems,” Dr Ball said.