INTERNATIONAL environmental treaties like the World Heritage Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity show that the concept of national sovereignty must be tempered by the recognition of an interest of the international community in the conservation of resources found in different jurisdictions. The fact that states voluntarily accept limitations on their sovereignty by agreeing to international obligations to conserve some of their natural resources provide a basis upon which bilateral agreements on border area management may be developed.
With the emergence of the new thought on national sovereignty, transboundary protected area (TBPA) management came into fore. Referred to here are transborder parks, transnational parks, transfrontier reserves, friendship parks — meaning, protected areas that meet across international borders.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is not wanting in transboundary protected areas. Among them:
Turtle Islands Heritage Area (Philippines and Malaysia) – In 1996, Malaysia and the Philippines entered into a memorandum of agreement for the establishment of the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area consisting of six islands designated by the Philippines and three islands designated by Malaysia, which are habitats of the endangered green and hawksbill turtles. The agreement calls for an integrated management program which highlights, at the minimum, the following: (i) implementation of a uniform approach to conservation that is oriented towards wise management of the protected areas; (ii) establishment of a centralized marine turtles database; (iii) development of information awareness programs for the inhabitants of the islands; (iv) implementation of a staff training program; and (iv) development of ecotourism projects. A joint management committee may recommend to their respective governments the enactment of such laws as may be necessary to attain the objectives of the agreement.
Heart of Borneo (HoB) Initiative (Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam) – While most of Borneo (the world’s third largest island) is Indonesian territory (Kalimantan), the rest is covered by Malaysia’s Sarawak and Sabah. Brunei Darussalam is also located in the island.
Right in the middle of Borneo is vast forested land where the headwaters of major rivers are located. The expanse is known as Heart of Borneo. Super rich in biodiversity, many indigenous tribes live in the area, each having a unique culture and language.
In 2007, the three countries agreed to establish a network of protected areas and sustainably managed forests. Resource assessments, science expeditions, community development and other related activities are continuously undertaken to enhance the management and conservation efforts within the HoB.
Sulu Sulawesi Marine Eco-region (Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines) – An area of about 900,000 square kilometers of marine resources, the area is beset by piracy and illegal fishing. Be that as it may, conservation initiatives in the eco-region is being undertaken by NGOs led by WWF and Conservation International. A network of marine protected areas was established accompanied by law enforcement support in priority conservation areas.
A 2009 report indicated expansion of the total “no take” zone in three corridors of the seascape.
Reserves (Malaysia and Indonesia) – A very ideal buffer zone exists between Indonesia and Malaysia on account of the fact that it is uninhabited for military and security reasons. Malaysia declared the zone (Lanjak Entimau) in Sarawak a reserve, which prompted Indonesia to establish an adjoining reserve Gunung Bentuang dan Karimum (Indonesian Borneo).
Worth mentioning as candidate Asean TBPA is the Preah Vihar temple site between Cambodia and Thailand. Although decided by the world court in favor of Cambodia, the concept of functional sovereignty should be considered to make the area an Asean tourism resource, a cultural heritage of both Cambodia and Thailand aside from a religious destination in the Asean jurisdiction. In short, the change of perception of the role of sovereignty in relations between states regarding their environment should be characterized by equitable utilization ultimately redounding to the benefit of the Asean region.
Bilateral agreements create transborder protected areas. TBPAs can only be effectively established if there are responsive legal instruments and institutional arrangements for their protection/management. This is brought about by the uniqueness of frontier areas in the sense that they presuppose two or more governments as well as two sets of legal base, providing the necessary authority for action.
Among practical management activities which could be the object of joint cooperative efforts are: law enforcement, border crossing, permits, customs clearances, regulations, search and rescue operations, local people/tribal communities concerns, wildlife disease prevention and control, fire prevention and other emergency procedures, and species re-introduction and nonindigenous species introductions. Regular staff exchanges, shared research and results projects, complementary publications, and compatible communication systems could be worked out too.
Special consideration should be given to sustainable activities of the resident population, be they cultural minorities or migrant settlers. Such cooperation efforts could be further enhanced by joint staff training programs and complementary public information, awareness and education. TBPAs would mutually benefit too from joint tourism marketing efforts which could lead to development of sites adjacent to the protected area, thereby highlighting their role in regional development. To address all of these types of activities, close coordination is required of the protected area authorities from both sides of the border.
What bodes well for transboundary protected areas is the current general acknowledgement that the world is becoming not only economically but ecologically interdependent. This was brought about by widespread interest in unified action to control borderless environmental problems like air and water pollution and environmental issues like biodiversity loss and nonindigenous species introduction which cannot be solved unilaterally by national governments. This is where the potential lead role of the concept of transboundary protected areas come in.
In 1988, border parks proponent John Macleod asked, “Why not seed the borderlines of the world with peace parks, nature preserves and wilderness areas that encourage cultural and physical respect for and appreciation of wildlife and irreplaceable landscape?”
And, as Henry Thoreau wrote, “…in wilderness is the preservation of the world.”