The System Plan for Thailand’s PAs is designed to enable the nation’s 370+protected sites to function as a coherent system that puts the entire network into its broader social, cultural, economic, and environmental context. It shows how to integrate protected areas into the 2012-2016 National Economic and Social Development Plan by communicating the multiple values of protected areas to national planning agencies, and to the many sectors whose activities can affect protected areas, or be affected by them. These include tourism, agriculture, fisheries, health, energy, forestry, transport, and even the military. The System Plan incorporates protected areas appropriately within the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan(NBSAP), as part of Thailand’s implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Preparing a System Plan is also called for the Program of Work on Protected Area by CBD (Article 8a), and will help meet several of the Aichi Targets for Biodiversity.
When Thailand banned commercial logging in 1989, large expanses of forested land became available for other uses, including conservation. The Royal Forest Department used this opportunity to expand the terrestrial protected area estate substantially. But this expansion was opportunistic rather than systematic. Many isolated areas were declared, as virtual islands of forest surrounded by agricultural lands that nibbled away at the PA boundaries. Managing nearly 20% of Thailand’s terrestrial territory and nearly 8% of its seas as protected areas also posed a significant ecosystem management challenge, calling for vigorous responses to ensure the survival of hundreds of species that were listed as Threatened by IUCN. So the challenge was clear: How to meet the CBD’s Aichi Target 11 for protected areas, by 2020, for Thailand’s protected areas to be “conserved through an effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected system of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.” The System Plan provided the solution or at least the foundation for it.
Establishing a coherent and well-coordinated system of protected areas is no simple matter, and has required considerable investments in capacity building, new approaches to working with local people, objective assessments of monitoring management effectiveness, and implementing innovative forms of management that are reviewed and modified on the basis of experience (known as adaptive management). These investments have proven their worth in terms of the increased flow of benefits from the protected areas to the people of Thailand, more effective management of the protected areas, and stronger support to global efforts to conserve biodiversity and address the problems of climate change.
- Nineteen protected area complexes have been established to bring various categories of protected areas together or link them by conservation corridors that are now being managed by well-coordinated management plans. The effective size of the protected areas in ecosystem management terms has been substantially increased, to the benefit of Thailand’s biodiversity.
- Protected areas are now widely seen as providing healthy ecosystem services as a valuable public good worthy of greater public investment, with development agencies routinely using these concepts. Income from innovative sources of funding are being managed by innovative financial management mechanisms, leading to a National Conservation Trust Fund.
- Over 12 million visitors to protected areas each year are demonstrating that the sites are well appreciated by the people of Thailand (and international visitors), and they are bringing significant economic benefits to the rural communities in the buffer zones around protected areas.
- A modern geographic information system is being used for effective management of protected areas, including anti-poaching, controlling illegal encroachment, designing management plans, and communicating with the general public.