A Conversation with Willem van Riet, Peace Parks Foundation

MPA News

The Peace Parks Foundation, based in South Africa, has supported southern African governments in the development of 10 peace parks (www.peaceparks.org). In doing so, the Foundation has played many roles, including facilitating planning processes, managing community consultations, and training park managers, among other tasks. Former South African President Nelson Mandela is a founding patron of the Foundation.

Willem van Riet is Vice-Chairman, International Relations, of Peace Parks Foundation. MPA News spoke with him about the peace park concept and how such parks differ from "regular" protected areas.

MPA News: What distinctions, if any, do you draw between peace parks and transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs)?

Van Riet: The 1999 Southern African Development Community Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement defines a TFCA as "the area or component of a large ecological region that straddles the boundaries of two or more countries, encompassing one or more protected areas as well as multiple resource use areas". The underlying principle of a TFCA is to promote collaboration in the management of shared natural resources along international boundaries.

A TFCA becomes a transfrontier park once the international treaty establishing the park has been signed. It denotes cooperation in the management of contiguous protected areas. Collaboration in managing shared natural resources complements the goals and objectives of various international conservation conventions and can be used as vehicles for advancing regional economic integration while promoting peace and stability.

That said, Peace Parks Foundation normally uses the terms peace park, TFCA, and transfrontier park interchangeably.

MPA News: How is the planning of peace parks different from the planning of "regular" protected areas?

Van Riet: The challenges unique to peace parks are related to cross-border issues. While sovereignty is never affected, the international border(s) between the partner countries soften to allow locals, tourists, and animals free movement within the parameters of the park. While not without difficulties, this is an extremely positive process, as the partner countries are in a sense forced to meet far more regularly than before to discuss issues of mutual concern. This brings about good neighborliness and regional peace and stability.

The way this is carried out in practice is by setting up working groups overseen by a technical committee, which in turn is operational under the ministerial committee as soon as the Memorandum of Understanding toward the establishment of the TFCA has been signed. The signing of the international treaty establishing the transfrontier park effectively transforms the technical committee into a joint management board and the working groups into management committees. These new, permanent management committees deal with conservation; safety and security; finance, human resources and legislation; and tourism. Facilitating the process is an international coordinator, which the partner governments (assisted by Peace Parks Foundation) usually appoint soon after the MoU signing.

MPA News: Does the marine realm pose unique challenges to the creation of peace parks?

Van Riet: Yes. In southern Africa, these challenges include poaching of abalone resources and the destruction of beaches by 4x4 off-road vehicles. However, as is the case with terrestrial peace parks, these issues are far more effectively addressed on a cross-border or regional basis. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers for the Environment are, for instance, considering developing a protocol for the region to manage or regulate 4x4 activities on the region's beaches. [The SADC consists of 14 nations: www.sadc.int.]

The first marine peace park with which the Foundation has been involved is the Lubombo TFCA between Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland. A crucial step in protecting the resources of Lubombo, Africa's first coastal and marine TFCA was designated in May 2007 with the appointment of a marine protected area manager to the Maputo Special Reserve and Ponta do Ouro area in Mozambique. An exciting first outcome of this has been a cross-border turtle monitoring program whereby data are being collected for the entire Maputaland coastline, from St. Lucia in South Africa to Santa Maria in Mozambique. This collaborative project between Maputo Special Reserve, Peace Parks Foundation, the Mozambican Marine Turtle Working Group (consisting of public and private sector entities, as well as local communities), and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in South Africa will result in the first report defining the status of turtle populations along this entire strip of coastline, as well as management recommendations.

For more information

Willem van Riet, Peace Parks Foundation, Millennia Park, 16 Stellentia Ave, PO Box 12743, Die Boord, Stellenbosch 7613, South Africa. Tel: +27 21 887 6188; E-mail: wvanriet [at] ppf.org.za