Environmental groups have expressed concern over a recent tender for an ecotourism project in the Myeik Archipelago, warning that it should only go ahead if the government can ensure the winner properly adheres to environmental standards.
The Forestry Department of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry invited local and foreign companies to bid for a long-term lease inside the Lampi Marine Park, in Tanintharyi Region’s Bokpyin township, in order to promote sustainable development in the area. The tender for the site, which is on department-owned land on War Ale island, inside the marine park, closed on May 30. Companies were to submit a proposal for an “eco-based resort” that would be built under a build, operate and transfer (BOT) agreement.
Ministry officials declined to provide any further details on the tender last week, adding only that the result would be announced in state media.
U Saw Tun Khine, an adviser to the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), said the development must keep the impact on the local ecosystem to a minimum. In particular, he stressed that it should include proper pollution control management rules that are strictly enforced.
“The concessionaire shouldn’t influence the conservation management body, and should have environmental conservation knowledge. Development and conservation should be balanced, or the habitat could be destroyed quickly,” he said, adding that park authorities should monitor tourism development to ensure that it is responsible.
“Visitors should follow basic conservation principles – ‘take nothing but photographs’ and ‘leave nothing but footsteps’ – or the sustainability of the area will be affected. Does the department have enough human resources, funding and capacity to manage these things properly?”
Other experts say the answer to this question is a resounding “no”.
U Tint Tun, chair of the Marine Science Association Myanmar, who frequently visits the marine park, said patrols did not operate in the conservation area because of the lack of facilities for the staff. He said bringing hoteliers into the area could lead to improvements in enforcement and ward off more dangerous threats, such as illegal fishing.
“I’m hopeful that responsible tourism development will also help conservation,” he said. “Although Lampi is regarded as national park there were lots of trawlers when I visited two months ago. Lesser mouse deer are also hunted for meat. If hoteliers are willing to collaborate in sustainable development, there will be more success in conservation.”
Ministry officials concede that there are difficulties enforcing the conservation zone. While patrols take place once a month, they are sometimes cancelled during rainy season because of bad weather, said the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division official, who asked not to be named.
U Saw Tun Khine said the Myeik Archipelago biodiversity was richer than that of upper Myanmar and its resources should be husbanded wisely. A 2011 report by an Italian NGO and BANCA said marine and terrestrial biodiversity in Lampi had significant value, and that 50 globally protected species had been identified so far. According to the report, Lampi Marine National Park was designated in 1996 to include an area extending 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) from the outer islands, of which Lampi Island is the biggest at 205 square kilometres.
The report added that the main threat was human settlements causing forest destruction, agriculture expansion, heavy poaching of forest mammals, logging and wood harvesting, overfishing, illegal fishing, over-harvesting of marine flora and fauna, and garbage and solid waste.
The report recommended that ecotourism be developed only after park management was in place and in a manner that favoured community-based initiatives.
Meanwhile, a recent survey by a team of scientists from Flora and Fauna International (FFI), working alongside internationally renowned marine experts, recorded hundreds of species around the 800-island archipelago, including at least four new forms of coral, as well as several invertebrates and fish.
The survey found much of the region was less damaged by blast-fishing and illegal trawling than predicted, particularly in northern parts of the archipelago.
FFI is now in talks with the government and local community representatives about how best to protect the area, which is also on a list of proposed World Heritage Sites.
Frank Momberg, FFI program director for Myanmar, said allocating the resources to enforce protection zones is essential for them to have any beneficial impact.
“Getting legal protection is not such a problem,” Mr Momberg said, “but getting the budget [for effective enforcement] will be a bigger challenge.”
Source: Myanmar Times