Five protected areas from Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam have joined the network of ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs), areas of high conservation value that best represent the region’s rich natural resources and cultural identity.
Environment ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) declared Hat Chao Mai National Park and Mu Ko Libong Non-hunting Area and Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, both from Thailand; Lo Go-Xa Mat National Park and Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve of Viet Nam; and Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary of Myanmar as new AHPs during the 15th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment (AMME) and related meetings held from 7–10 October 2019 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
“We are happy to announce that we now have 49 ASEAN Heritage Parks. These are models of effective protected area management,” said Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim, executive director of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB).
The ACB serves as the Secretariat of the AHP Programme, a flagship initiative of the ASEAN that recognises national parks and nature reserves with outstanding wilderness and biodiversity values.
“These additions to our growing list of protected areas in the region demonstrate ASEAN’s intensified and unified efforts to conserve a wider area and cover all types of ecosystems,” Lim said noting that of the 49 AHPs, 12 are marine and coastal parks.
The AHP programme encourages the sustainable and equitable management of protected areas to contribute to the progress of achieving Aichi Target 11 under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Target 11 calls for the conservation of at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, by 2020.
“The AHPs represent the rich and diverse species and ecosystem of the ASEAN region. We hope to cover more areas in line with our main goal of reducing the rate of biodiversity loss in the region,” Lim said.
For a protected area to be an AHP, it must meet criteria, including ecological completeness, representativeness, naturalness, high conservation importance, legally gazetted conservation areas, approved management plan, transboundary, uniqueness, high ethno-biological significance, and importance for endangered biodiversity.
The AMME is held every two years for the environment ministers to discuss a wide range of environmental issues. The 15th AMME tackled biodiversity conservation, climate change, environmentally sustainable city, coastal and marine environment, environmental education, chemical and hazardous waste management, transboundary haze pollution control, and eco-schools.
The ASEAN environment ministers also attended related meetings, including the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, the 16th ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, and South Korea) Environment Ministers Meeting, and the ASEAN-Japan Ministerial Dialogue on the Environmental Cooperation.
The new AHPs and other conservation topics are expected to take the spotlight at the Sixth ASEAN Heritage Park Conference (AHP6) on 21–24 October 2019 in Pakse, Lao PDR.
With theme “Sustainability and Innovation for Parks and People—Celebrating 35 years of ASEAN Heritage Parks,” the AHP6 will gather protected area managers, representatives from international environmental organisations, businesses, academe, traditional and local communities, and youth to discuss knowledge and best practices in managing protected areas.
Organised by the ACB and the Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Lao PDR with support from the European Union (EU), the German Development Cooperation through the KfW, German development agency GIZ, SwedBio, Convention on Biological Diversity, and Japan Biodiversity Fund, the conference aims to improve the AHP network and strengthen camaraderie among AHP stakeholders and other development partners.
Hat Chao Mai National Park and Mu Ko Libong Non-hunting Area
Hat Chao Mai National Park and Mu Ko Libong Non-hunting Area are protected areas situated beside each other in Trang Province, Southern Thailand, towards the Andaman Sea. Declared as Ramsar wetlands of international importance in 2002, the two sites possess high ecosystem diversity including evergreen, karst, and beach forests, limestone cave ecosystems, mangroves, seagrass meadows, and coral reefs. These areas are known as home to dugongs, a marine mammal listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
These also host other threatened flora and fauna, including 265 identified floral species and 50 faunal species, which have been listed as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable species, and nearly threatened. Unique rock formations, such as caves, limestone formations, cliffs, and sinkholes can also be found in the sites.
Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park
The Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park is a protected area situated in Surat Thani Province in Thailand. With an area of 102 square kilometres, it is an archipelago and a protected area composed of diverse ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass, mangroves, and karst ecosystems. It is a popular tourist destination featuring panoramic views of the area, geological formations, and sandy beaches. The area is also known to offer numerous ecosystem services, especially on the life cycle of mackerels, which is a very important commercial fish product in Thailand. It is home to endangered and threatened species. Among others, the orchid Ang Thong Lady Slipper (Paphiopedilum niveum) is endemic only to this area.
The area was recognised as a Ramsar site in 2002. It was also awarded a 5-star beach rating by the Pollution Control Department of Thailand for the sound environmental management of the area.
Lo Go-Xa Mat National Park
Located in Tay Ninh Province of Viet nam, Lo Go-Xa Mat National covers a total area of 191.50 square kilometres of core zone and 186 square kilometres of buffer zones. The Park plays an important role in the conservation and development of biodiversity values, border protection, and natural landscapes, especially the forest and wetlands habitats of the transitional region between the Central Highlands, Southern Lowlands, and Mekong Delta ecoregions of Viet Nam. The Park was established to conserve threatened plant and animal species. It serves as a location for scientific research, environmental education, and ecotourism development. This site is also potentially important for transboundary conservation action between Viet Nam and Cambodia.
Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve
Ngoc Linh is the second highest mountain range in Viet Nam, following the Hoang Lien Mountain, the highest in South Viet Nam and Indochina. The Ngoc Linh mountain has a strongly fragmented terrain and is a transitional area between the Northern Annamite Range and the Southern Annamite Range, between the coastal plain and the Central Highlands. With these characteristics, Ngoc Linh has a unique location that creates high and unique values of biodiversity.
Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated in the largest contiguous landscape in Myanmar, Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary is home to rare wildlife species, including seven Asian wild cat species and their prey; endemic species like Burmese Roofed Turtle; and endangered species such as Asian elephant, Bengal tiger, Dhole, and Shortridge’s langur.
It is also a haven for other animal and plant species which include: 16 orchid species; 38 mammal species; 266 bird species; 77 reptile and amphibian species; and more than 100 butterfly species. This 215,072-hectare sanctuary can be found in Sagaing Region in Northern Myanmar.