Protected areas respond to the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of society and protected areas are no exception. In this difficult time, it is critical that protected area managers share their experiences and best practices in responding to the coronavirus, in order to minimise the negative impacts of the pandemic on conservation and enhance the resilience of protected areas in the future.
To help achieve this objective, the Asia Protected Areas Partnership (APAP) organised a webinar on COVID-19 and Protected Area Management on 23 July 2020. More than 50 representatives from protected areas agencies in Asia and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) Asia participated.
“This webinar will provide a better understanding of how COVID-19 impacts protected area management. We will also learn from experiences of the Republic of Korea and Malaysia in responding to this challenge,” said Ms. Minsun Kim, Programme Officer, Protected Areas, IUCN Asia during the opening of the webinar.
The first presentation was delivered by Dr. Marc Hockings, Emeritus Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the University of Queensland and Ms. Mariana Napolitano Ferreira, Co-chair of the IUCN WCPA Task Force on COVID-19 and Protected and Conserved Areas. Their presentation provided a global overview of the ways in which COVID-19 is impacting protected and conserved areas and the actions that are needed both now and in the future to address these impacts.
Dr. Hockings drew attention to the fact that 70 per cent of emerging zoonotic diseases come from wildlife through “spillover events” – a situation in which pathogens jump from one species to another. The large-scale conversion and transformation of natural ecosystems facilitates this spillover of pathogens from wildlife to human populations.
“Well-designed and managed networks of protected and conserved areas help to maintain intact natural habitats and ecological integrity. It is important to minimise edges, separate intensive land uses and wildlife, and manage for healthy functioning ecosystems where protected areas are being established alongside intensively used land. We should include the dynamics of zoonotic diseases in planning for protected areas management to reduce occurrences of spill over events in the future,” said Dr. Marc Hockings.
COVID-19 has had significant negative impacts on the tourism economy, the livelihoods of communities, and protected area enforcement activities; in some cases, local communities have turned to resource extraction in order to supplement their income. Dr. Hockings described three scenarios for protected areas in the post- COVID-19 era: first, a return to normal operations; second, a global economic depression and subsequent decline in conservation; and third, a new and transformative relationship with nature that enhances outcomes for protected areas and people. Our objective should be to ensure that it is this third scenario that we adopt.
Following this overview presentation, representatives from the Korea National Park Service (KNPS) discussed their experience of managing national parks during the pandemic.
“KNPS established its own system of quarantine and its own response plan. KNPS also installed integrated control rooms for the safety of visitors’ health. National parks have been equipped with LAN-based systems which enable people to visit parks virtually. Drive-thru farmers’ markets have been established to support local economies. KNPS also established a Post COVID-19 Task Force to respond proactively to the rapidly-changing situations triggered by COVID-19,” said Mr. Heejin Kang, Chief Programme Officer, Korea National Park Service.
In Malaysia, protected areas developed their own operating procedures following protocols provided by the federal government. The closure of parks for two months has resulted in a loss of USD 3.2 million in revenue. These closures have directly impacted 350 mountain guides and porters at Kinabalu National Park and 13 villages dependent on community-based ecotourism activities.
“However, the closure of the parks let nature thrive, as evidenced by the re-emergence of wildlife, and also provided us with more time to conduct monitoring activities in the parks,” said Mr. Ludi Apin, Deputy Director, Management, Operations and International Relations, Sabah Parks, Malaysia.
The over-reliance of protected areas on tourism to finance their operations was one of the main concerns discussed during the webinar. The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for protected areas and private conservancies to develop more diverse and resilient ways of financing their operations.
“We need to find a new and transformative relationship with the environment in the post COVID-19 era and reiterate the importance of harmony between humans and nature,” said Alex McWilliam, Programme Coordinator, Natural Resources Group, IUCN Asia in his closing remarks.
A video of the webinar, as well as each speaker’s presentation, can be found at the following links:
• Dr. Marc Hockings, Emeritus Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland: Video, Presentation
• Ms Mariana Napolitano Ferreira, Co-Chair of the IUCN WCPA Task Force on COVID-19 and Protected and Conserved Areas
• Mr. Heejin Kang, Chief Programme Officer, Korea National Park Service: Video, Presentation
• Mr. Ludi Apin, Deputy Director, Management, Operations and International Relations, Sabah Parks, Malaysia: Video, Presentation