On 8 February 2018, the Cambodian government announced the establishment of the Koh Rong National Marine Park (NMP) – a first for the country. The park covers over 52,000ha – an area the size of Guam – along the coast of Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong and is critical to safeguarding coastal habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. The park is also home to flagship species such as Irawaddy dolphins, dugongs and sea turtles.
The road to establishing the National Marine Park in Koh Rong wasn’t easy. There were many challenges, including unregulated land claims, terrestrial forest degradation, road expansion, illegal exploitation of natural resources, overfishing, pollution from improper sewage disposal, disturbance of coral reefs and seagrass beds by tourism and trawling, and population expansion.
Mangroves for the Future (MFF) worked with the government to overcome these challenges. In June 2016, MFF organised an exposure visit for technical staff from the Cambodia Department of Marine and Coastal Conservation of the Ministry of Environment (MoE), and the Department of Fisheries Conservation of the Fisheries Administration, to Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Viet Nam. During the visit, participants learned the basics of MPA establishment, management structure, policy frameworks, zoning, private sector engagement, and sustainable financing – approaches which could be adapted to the Cambodian context.
To establish the NMP, MFF and the MoE adopted a bottom-up approach, in which input and concerns from relevant local, provincial and national stakeholders were taken into consideration at all levels of the consultation process. MFF and the MoE also surveyed biodiversity on the coral reefs, and consulted with local and provincial stakeholders, such as the local Fisheries Administration.
“We depend on fishing for our daily subsistence,” said a villager from the island of Koh Rong. “When there is no longer any illegal fishing, our income will increase, so I am very happy with the establishment of the National Marine Park.” The villager also expressed “concerns about the management system protecting the marine park,” which the MoE will address by establishing community-protected areas within the park, governed by legally recognised committees, to engage local communities in the management and protection process.
In the NMP design process, the reef-to-ridge approach was taken. This approach recognises land-sea connectivity between marine and coastal ecosystems and terrestrial forest, watershed and other upland ecosystems. Possible impacts from watersheds on the open sea are considered in this establishment process. Using this approach, the Government decided to integrate both the marine areas and terrestrial forests of the surrounding islands into the National Marine Park system.
“This NMP will play a significant role in protecting marine and terrestrial biodiversity, and in empowering local coastal communities through the services provided by NMP ecosystems,” said Thay Chantha, Director of Marine and Coastal Conservation for the Cambodia MoE. “It will also prevent human development activities from putting additional pressure on the ecosystem.”
According to Mr Chantha, the establishment of the NMP is in line with national and regional biodiversity conservation policies. It was established by a prime ministerial sub-decree, and achieves the ASEAN target that each Member country should have a marine protected area or its equivalent: in this case, a National Marine Park.
Koh Rong’s establishment is also a step towards fulfilling Cambodia’s international obligations. As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Cambodia is committed to achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets by 2020. Target 11 requires that at least 17% of each signatory’s terrestrial and inland water area, and 10% of its coastal and marine area, be designated and managed as protected. Cambodia already has 53 protected terrestrial areas covering more than 7.5 million hectares – almost 41% of the country – and now has one NMP covering 52,000ha of its sea and coast.
Moving forward, IUCN and MFF, in collaboration with Fauna and Flora International and other conservation partners, will work together to support the Department of Marine and Coastal Conservation to prepare the management plan and zoning scheme for the park. In addition, the Ministry of Environment plans to establish community-protected areas with legally recognised committees within the park to engage local communities in the management and protection process.