By Professor Wasantha Rathnayake
Vice Chancellor of Ocean University of Sri Lanka
The selection of sites as Protected Areas begins with the identification of areas based on biological criteria. The conservation value of natural resources and ecosystems and other values help to determine the proposed boundaries of these protected areas. The boundary determination will take into account the lands and waters essential to conserving the ecosystem functions of the area and the wildlife resource.
Vision for Protected Area Management
For most countries, the subject of protected area and visitor services management is still new. The first contemporary international conference on the subject was held in 1962 in Seattle. The second conference was held in 1972 in Yellowstone National Park. The third, the World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas, was held on the island of Bali, Indonesia, in 1982. These conferences have played a major role in moves by developing countries to allocate land for protection, particularly, countries in the tropical zone to establish protected areas in their countries.
The current global vision on protected area management emphasizes the role of science in decision-making, efficient communication, and management of complex information; long term management plans to guide and balance conservation and development efforts; provision of varied recreational and educational opportunities for visitors; and the linking of local communities through participation and benefit-sharing.
Basis for selection of sites for protected areas
An internationally valid system, based on seven, well-founded bio-geographical principles, for the selection of protected areas was prepared by IUCN (The World Conservation Union) in order to assess representative coverage of the earth’s wild species and major ecosystems within the context of the World Conservation Strategy, this basis is seen as a useful tool for evaluating the global conservation effort and for determining priorities for future action. The following sections provide details on these criteria as Sri Lanka too has, to an extent, adopted the same criteria in identifying sites for protected areas.
Genetic and species conservation in selection
Species do not live in isolation; they live within communities and in ecosystems. It has become widely accepted that habitat protection is fundamental to save species so that reserves should be selected on the basis of representational coverage of habitat types. The area selection will also tend to favour areas of high endemism or distinctiveness.
In Sri Lanka, this is a major criterion for the selection of sites as protected areas. All the strict nature reserves and national parks have been declared on this basis, examples being the Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve, Samanala Adaviya Nature Reserve and Horton Plains National Park.
Additionally, some protected areas have been declared for conserving elephants in addition to conserving ecosystems and their fauna and flora, for example, Wetahira Kanda Nature Reserve, which includes a corridor between Udawalawe and Lunugamvehera; Dahiyagala Sanctuary, which contains a corridor between Uda Walawe and proposed Bogahapattiya Sanctuary, Flood Plains National Park, which contains a corridor between Wasgomuwa National Park and Somawathiya Chaitya National Park; and Tabbowa, which carries a corridor between Wilpattu National Park and Kahalla Pallekele Sanctuary. Nelugala is the only protected area declared to be in the ‘corridor’ category that is not found physically on ground due to human settlements.
Implications of island biogeographic theory in selection
According to the theory of island biogeography, small protected areas that are isolated by modified habitats behave like ‘islands’ and will eventually lose some of their original species until a new equilibrium is reached depending on the size, richness and diversity of the area and its degree of isolation from other similar habitats.
An extensive literature exists on the theory of island biogeography and its relevance to protected area design, selection and management. In Sri Lanka, too, such small islets have been found, of which areas which are rich in biodiversity have been declared as protected areas, for e.g., Pigeon Islands National Park, Vankalai Sanctuary, and Ambalangoda Rocky Islets sanctuary.
Hydrological criterion in selection
The natural vegetation cover plays a very important role in regulating the behaviour of water drainage systems. Particularly important is the ‘sponge effect’ by which rainfall is trapped and held by catchment forests and natural grasslands which enables the water to drain out slowly and evenly into the river systems, reducing thus the tendency to flooding in periods of heavy rainfall and making possible the continued release of water during periods of dry weather. Therefore, the selection of areas in need of protection for the preservation of hydrological functions will depend on hydrological criteria. The upper-water catchment areas of the major rivers of Sri Lanka, namely Mahaweli, Kalu, Kelani and Walawe, also fall within wildlife reserves such as the Victoria-Randenigala-Rantembe Sanctuary, Samanala Adaviya Nature Reserve and Horton Plains National Park.
Geographical aspects considered in selection
Although location considerations rarely take precedence over bio-geographic, biological and hydrological considerations in selection, they are nonetheless crucial to the success of many protected area projects.
Apart from preserving biological resources rich in diversity together with their natural habitats, the Network of Wildlife Protected Areas (WLPAs) protects almost all the largescale reservoirs of the country which provide water for agriculture and the generation of hydro-power. Since the 1950s, the network of WLPAs has included the following along with their catchment areas: all the reservoirs in the Gal Oya Valley, including Senanayake Samudra; all the Mahaveli reservoirs including those fed with Mahaweli water in the Central and North Central Provinces; all the reservoirs in the southern part of the country including Udawalawa, Mau Ara, Lunugamvehera and Veheragala. The total number of reservoirs which provides water for agriculture and hydro-power generation within the WLPAs exceeds 40. The catchments of these reservoirs and water bodies have been declared protected areas to ensure the protection of the catchments.
Political considerations in selection
The world is indubitably divided into political units – countries, states, provinces and so on. While these divisions sometimes have meaningful geographical, even bio-geographical, relationships, more often than not, political boundaries cut through bio-geographical Provinces and sub-provinces.
Hence, not only must these political factors be given serious consideration in the selection of reserves, they can sometimes be useful in developing protected areas. One of the reasons for the success of the national park concept is that it appeals to national pride. Indeed, some national parks have been declared ‘Peace Parks’, an example being the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the name of which commemorates the union of the Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and the Glacier National Park in the United States. As is the case with the above example, sometimes some such protected areas can become trans-boundary protected areas.
The Global Transboundary Protected Areas Network cites five different types of TBPAs as follows:
= Two or more contiguous protected areas across a national boundary
= A cluster of protected areas and the intervening land
= A cluster of separated protected areas without intervening land
= A trans-border area including proposed protected areas
= A protected area in one country aided by sympathetic land use over the border
The preservation of traditional animal migration patterns and ensuring sufficient food and water sources for population growth are the primary reasons for the creation of peace parks. Peace parks however also encourage tourism, economic development and goodwill between neighbouring countries, as well as facilitating the travel of indigenous inhabitants of the area. Such political consideration has not factored into the selection of protected areas in Sri Lanka.
Practical considerations in selection
If all efforts at in situ protection of valuable resources are considered to have failed, ex situ or translocation rescue operations can be considered. For ex situ conservation processes, some areas are designated and declared as protected areas. However, in some instances, the level of protective measures needed to safeguard an area against local pressures arising from land hunger or general abuse may be impossible to achieve or justify.
So far, the Department of Wildlife Conservation has not considered the ex-situ criterion for the selection of protected areas because ex-situ conservation is not encouraged under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. However, Rekawa and Godawaya sanctuaries which are designated as and declared for both ex situ and in situ conservation of turtles.
Tourism consideration in selection
In many countries, tourism plays a major role in the establishment of protected areas with the potential for tourism as an important factor in the selection process. The most successful tourist packages combine a number of different interests – sport, wildlife, local customs, historical sites, spectacular scenes, food and dancing and, most importantly, water. Hence, the seas, lakes, rivers and waterfalls carry high recreation value. In Sri Lanka, all national parks, except a few national parks i.e.Flood Plains and Somawathiya Chaithya National Parks have been declared for tourism purposes.