Ecosystems are transboundary

15 May 2013 | Article

In early 2013, two bordering provinces of Thailand and Cambodia discussed possible transboundary collaboration. A group of 34 representatives from communities, academy, local government offices in Trat, as well as a team of the Sustainable Development Foundation and IUCN, travelled to Koh Kong, Cambodia to meet with H.E. Say Socheat, Deputy Governor of Koh Kong province, and other officials, as part of the European Union funded project Building Resilience to Climate Change Impacts in Coastal Southeast Asia (BCR).

"Ecosystems don’t stop at country borders. This is why the BCR project is trying to explore the potential for transboundary collaboration", says Robert Mather, Head of IUCN Southeast Asia Group.

The local communities of both Koh Kong and Trat depend heavily on the ocean, where fishing for coastal and marine resources are their metier. With climate change altering weather patterns and sea temperatures, both communities are facing an increase of risk to their livelihoods and long-standing practices.

Resource management in Koh Kong...

The Thai guests were able to learn from Koh Kong’s Deputy Governor and senior governmental officials about their strategies to natural resource management, community development, climate change and a history of the founding of the province in 1968.

“The provincial development policy is looking to improve agriculture and to diversify the crop system, fishery and general natural resource protection,” says Sek Sam Ol, Director of the Koh Kong Department of Investment and Planning. “We are also focusing on developing infrastructure such as roads, markets, small-scale irrigation systems, waste management, schools, health centres and giving low-interest loans. Our marine conservation has been of coral, seagrass and mangroves, which can lead to eco-tourism.”

Meas Sophal, Deputy Director of the General Department of Administration of Nature Conservation and Protection in the Ministry of Environment, points out some problems encountered in the past, such as the lack of awareness, no boundary demarcation markers, and illegal fishery.

“The ecosystem is changing, and livelihoods are threatened,” indicates Sophal. “We are experiencing severe landward beach migration and coastal mangrove deforestation. Our methodology is to establish mechanisms to manage the area, obtain a budget, raise awareness of law and regulations, build capacity and initiate pilot projects and long-term plans that can integrate with other agencies.”

Information on rare species is vital to know for the participants from Trat as both provinces share the same waters and animal migration patterns.

“There are 21 vulnerable species, which include a whale, the Irrawaddy dolphin, seahorses and some species of seagrass,” says Laon Kiry, Chief of Koh Kong Fishery Cantonment. “In 2012, no dolphin was found dead and we released two sea turtles back to the sea”, he adds.

… and in Trat

The representatives of Mai Root and Laem Klat shared similar experiences.

“Our sustainable management of natural resources includes crab banks, zoning of conservation areas and mangrove management,” says Surasak Intaraprasert, who was once the sub-district head and now still plays a vital role in the community.

Intaraprasert also relates to Koh Kong’s efforts to save special species. Mai Root has started a voluntary group to watch and conserve the dolphins and dugongs.

“We have more than 150 dolphins!” However, Trat province still lacks an official fisher folk association that can be the negotiating voice to the government.

Mai Root is also engaged in diversifying occupation, in response to climate change. They are engaged in herbal massage, bakery, ecotourism, and marketing. Community level responses are also present in Laem Klat through a savings and conservation group. As both Koh Kong and Trat learned about their adaptation strategies, the more it became apparent that such knowledge should be shared.

“What I learned from the trip is that the Koh Kong government has really made a culture of not harming dolphins, by connecting it to cultural values of luck,” explains Intaraprasert. “Protecting the dolphins would bring good luck, and save the diminishing vulnerable species. This is something we want to bring to Trat.”

Another approach to natural resource management is the use of multi-stakeholder participation in ecosystem-based adaptation. The various Thai participants to Koh Kong reflected different sectors relating to governmental organizations, local government, villagers, academia and NGOs. By bringing all actors to the table, natural resources are looked after from every angle, efforts and budget can be allocated and synchronized, and conflict is appeased.

Transboundary collaboration

The meeting has laid the foundation for future transboundary collaboration between the two provinces. The participants concluded to move forward with a committee of representatives comprised of officials and community members from Trat and Koh Kong. The committee will focus on coastal resources and management issues.

“It was good to hear from the governor,” exclaims Intaraprasert. “Cooperation is next, where both provinces will make their own committees, then have those two meet.”

The collaboration of Koh Kong and Trat will focus on a sound coastal and marine resource management that ramifies to a thriving local economy, sustainable livelihoods for small-scale fisher families, and an ecosystem that is cared for by people that depend on it.

Ecosystems don’t stop at borders, and species do not know checkpoints. Koh Kong and Trat have taken an important step to preserve their environment and prepare for a changing world.

By Lean Deleon, Communications Officer, Sustainable Development Foundation