Protected Areas Blossom at World Parks Congress

DURBAN, South Africa, September 18, 2003 (ENS) - Some 3,000 delegates to the Vth IUCN World Parks Congress who gathered here from 154 countries during the past 10 days went their separate ways today, carrying with them a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Held once every 10 years, the World Parks Congress allows conservationists, resource managers, scientists, civil servants and business leaders to exchange experiences, learn from each other, and establish a common agenda.

Many new protected areas were announced at the conference in countries such as Madagascar, Senegal, and Brazil, covering well over 200,000 square kilometers.

More than US$35 million was pledged for conservation both on land and sea.

The Congress launched the Africa Protected Areas Initiative, a major program to develop a well designed and managed system of protected areas that will meet the environmental and social needs of the continent.

South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Mohammed Valli Moosa said, "For South Africa, this is a very successful conference. It has translated many issues, such as sustainable livelihoods, sharing of benefits and the role of the private sector, that came out of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, into concrete goals and actions for the management of parks and reserves.”

The Durban Accord is the primary outreach product of the Congress - and it expresses great concern for the Earth's natural areas. "Everywhere, we are witnesses to great upheavals," the Accord states, "climatic changes, parceling out of the terrestrial and marine landscapes and the multiplication of invading exotic species. We see the population increasing, universalization, urbanization and decentralization and increasing pressure on the food resources, fibers, fuels and water," the delegates stated.

The delegates are concerned about the three billion people on Earth who live in poverty, and declared, "We will forge synergy between conservation, themaintenance of vital life support systems, and sustainable development. Protected areas are, for us, a vital means of carrying out this synergy with effectiveness and in a profitable way," delegates said in the Accord.

The Durban Accord celebrates the fact that about 12 percent of the Earth is now designated as protected areas, and pledges to work within the framework of existing multi-lateral agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity to ensure that designated areas are supported by sufficient funding and technical resources to be truly protected.

The delegates promised not to allow globalization and trade agreements to become obstacles to the achievement of the essential objectives of protected areas, a statement directed towards the World Trade Organization, whose latest round of talks, also held last week, broke down without agreement.

An important outcome of the conference for South Africa is the government's announcement of new legislation that will exempt all formally protected areas from land taxes known as “rates.”

The South African government is also teaming up with private land owners to bring private conservation land under government protection. This will bring the amount of conservation land in South Africa from the current 6.6 percent to over 10 percent.


Horses on the Pondoland Wild Coast in South Africa (Photo courtesy Muir's Tours)
In April, South African National Parks proposed to establish five new national parks in the country. The head of South African National Parks, Mavuso Msimang, said areas in Graaf Reinet, Potchefstroom, Pondoland, Blyde River and in the Knysna Forest are under consideration for the new parks. Over 130,000 hectares will come under protection.

At the World Parks Congress, the President of Madagascar Marc Ravalomanana committed to increasing the total area protected from 1.7 million to six millon hectares over the next five years. This will be accomplished by strengthening the existing system while creating many new sites. Additions will include marine protected areas and wetlands that are currently under-represented in the Malagasy protected areas system and will bring the total area under protection to 10 percent in 2008.

Delegates recognized that few marine areas are protected by comparison to the percentage of protected lands, and several initiatives were taken to safeguard more coastal and marine areas.

Senegalese Fisheries Minister Pape Diouf announced the creation of four marine protected areas in Senegal’s coastal zone covering more than 7,500 square kilometers to sustain fisheries and protect biodiversity.

The MAVA Foundation pledged five million euros to build a network of protected areas on West Africa’s coast. The program will link existing marine protected areas, create new ones, and implement a unique regional system of cooperation between government and civil society.

Dr. Luc Hoffmann of the MAVA Foundation said, "I am convinced that this collaboration of six African states and many more organizations will manage the coastal resources more effectively and help protect the livelihoods of millions in small-scale fishing communities."

IUCN shark specialists issued a warning at the Congress that marine protected areas may provide the only hope for some threatened shark species. If certain species such as the sawfishes do not receive immediate protection, they may soon be extinct, the scientists said. Not all shark species have been discovered and some are being overfished before they are even documented.

On land, six Latin American countries have joined forces with IUCN–The World Conservation Union, Conservation International, the Ford Foundation, and local partners to preserve the highland route known as the Great Inca Trail. Spanning Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Colombia, the network of protected areas will conserve the cultural and natural heritage of the ancient empire and sustain the livelihoods of Andean communities.

IUCN, The Nature Conservancy and WWF International announced at the Congress that they have joined forces to establish a Global Fire Partnership that aims to prevent the kind of destructive forest fires that raged throughout North America, Europe and other parts of the world this past summer.

To address issues of water scarcity, the Mandela Institute, School of Law, University of Witwatersrand, is being specifically recognized by the IUCN Commission of Environmental Law as a center of excellence in water law. Starting in 2004, the center will be hosting certificate and masters level courses in water law, tailored to the needs of lawyers and other professionals.

The state government of Amazonas, Brazil announced the establishment of six new protected areas covering 3.8 million hectares - an area equal to the size of Belgium holding some of the world’s richest biodiversity. Conservation International is supporting this initiative with at least US$1 million.

Also in Brazil, the state of Amapá announced the creation of a 10 million hectare biodiversity corridor that covers 71 percent of the state, an area slightly larger than Portugal. This newly protected area includes the world's largest tropical rainforest park and safeguards hundreds of unique plant and animal species. According to the agreement, the government of Amapá will invest US$15 million over the course of four years and Conservation International will invest US$1.6 million through its Global Conservation Fund to guarantee the corridor’s success.

Dr. Kenton Miller, chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, sees the Congress as a success. “Nations the world over have adhered to the overarching agenda set in Caracas, Venezuela, at the previous World Parks Congress [in 1993], and many targets set then have been attained and surpassed," he said.

"The fact that more than 10 percent of the globe’s surface is protected illustrates the commitment carried forward by such events," said Dr. Miller. "Today’s agenda recognizes the benefits and ensures that they are equitably shared. In 2013 we will be able to look back and hopefully be proud of our new achievements."