Protected area has long history in natural reserve in Cambodia and its idea is not new to this nation. It has been introduced for not only management and conservation of ecosystem but also protection of cultural value and landscape. In 1925, 10,800 hectares of forests surrounding Angkor temple was declared as the first national park in Southeast Asia (Wager, 1995; ADB, 2000; ICEM, 2003). To respond to the loss of biodiversity in the nation, conservation and management effort has been made continuously. In 1957, one third of country has been allocated into 173 forest reserves and six wildlife reserves and most of those sites currently declared as the protected areas which offer recreation services to the society along with nature conservation (ADB, 2000). The long delay of civil war caused the management of protected areas to collapse and over the past decade effort was made to restore the protected area systems into practical sense (ICEM, 2003). In 1993, the King Norodom Shihanouk (Father of the present king) issued the decree on a new national protected area system. Ministry of Environment is responsible for the management and development an area of 3,327,200 ha in cooperation with Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (ADB, 2000; ICEM, 2003). According to ADB report (2000), the Royal Decree 126 on “The Creation and Designation of Protection Area” designates 23 protected areas which constitute to 19 percent of the country. In addition, four management categories was defined, namely (1) national parks, (2) wildlife sanctuaries, (3) protected landscapes, and (4) multiple-use management areas. Until February 2008, law on protected areas was approved and it defined the clear roles, obligations and authority of different stakeholders (Cambodian team, 2009). The increase of number of fish sanctuaries and protected forest areas set up through Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery bring the national protected area up to 21 percent of the nation (ICEM, 2003).
Even though protected area systems have been put in place, the implementations are still in process and face many challenges. In contrast, there are also some opportunities for protected areas in Cambodia. To have a deep understanding about the current situation of ecosystem conservation in Cambodia, this paper attempts to illustrate some main challenges and opportunities of management and conservation through protected area systems.
2. Biogeographic characteristics of Cambodia
Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia cover an area of 181 035 square kilometers, with a population of over 14 millions of which about 81 percent lives in the rural areas (Ministry of Rural Development, 2006; Worldbank, 2007). In rural area, large majority of Cambodian earns their income through farming and using natural resources (USAID, 2006). However, 30 percent of its population still lives under the poverty line which means that the people earn less than one US dollar a day (UNDP, 2008). Cambodia is bordered on the north-east by Laos, on the east and south-east by Vietnam, on the south-west by the Gulf of Thailand, and on the west and north- west by Thailand (FAO, 2007). Surrounding by mountains and plateaus (except in the south-east and along the coast), the country has a large alluvial central plain and only a few points exceed 1 000 m in elevation. They are located primarily in the extreme north-east in the Cardamom Mountains and Elephant Mountain (FAO, 2009). Cambodian coastline stretches along the Gulf of Thailand with 64 islands and extensive mangroves and coral reefs (ICEM, 2003). The marine biodiversity is an extraordinary resource of the nation (Worldbank, 2009). The Mekong River and the Tonel Sap, designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997, likely dominate Cambodian‘s landscapes (ADB, 2000; ICEM, 2003; UNDP, 2008; Worldbank, 2009). However, the country is believed to have over 130 mammals and more than 500 bird species and about 300 freshwater species (ADB, 2000). Cambodian government estimates that 125 species are endangered. Twenty-eight mammals, 26 birds, 15 reptiles, three amphibians and 32 plants are listed as critically endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN red list (ITTO, 2005). According to the report of ADB (2000) and ICEM (2003), based on the ecological viewpoint Cambodia can be divided into seven unique biodiversity regions namely:
1 South-western Coastal Ranges and Marine Waters: Wet tropical forest including the Cardamom and Elephant Ranges, coastal formations and marine areas generally associated with sandstones. The area has low population densities and is dominated by natural and modified landscapes used for forestry, marine fisheries and the maintenance of biological diversity. Principal ethnic groups living in this area are the Khmer, Pear, Chong and Sóach.
2 Northern Plains: Lowland dry evergreen and associated deciduous forests on sandstones. The region has low population densities and natural and modified landscapes used for forestry, the maintenance of biological diversity, and limited agriculture. Ethnic groups living in this area include Khmer, Pear, Kouy and Stieng.
3 North-eastern Forests: Lowland deciduous forests and limited dry evergreen forest generally associated with sandstones and basalts respectively. The area has low population densities and is dominated by natural and modified landscapes used for forestry, the maintenance of biological diversity, and limited agriculture. Ethnic groups living in this area include the Tampoun, Brao, Rhade, Stieng and Khmer.
4 Kampong Cham: Remnant dry evergreen forests associated with basalts. The region has high population densities and extensive agriculture, plantations and limited forestry. Principal ethnic groups living in this area are the Khmer and Cham.
5 Mekong Delta Region: Characterized by very high population density, these alluvial areas are heavily dominated by agriculture and semi-natural wetlands. Ethnic groups living in this area include Khmer, Cham and some Vietnamese.
6 Tonle Sap Floodplain: This extensive alluvial plain is characterised by unique flooded forest and swamp forests, much of which has been subject to degrading influences. Ethnic groups living in this area are Khmer, Cham and some Vietnamese.
7 North-western region: The Pailin area features lowland evergreen and deciduous forests associated with limestone outcrops. The people living this area are generally Khmer with small numbers of Burmese migrants working in the gem fields. Population densities are higher on the fertile lowland soils of the Battambang Plain, which is highly productive for agriculture.
The definition of region and group of protected areas offer clear view on the resource to be focus for management. Criteria built on biological resources and their use also enables management responses linking protected areas to their surrounding development landscapes (ICEM, 2003).
3. Protected Area System in Cambodia
3.1 Protected Area Definition and Categories by IUCN
Due to ICEM (2003), protected area defines as “an area of land or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.” Some 120 countries at the Fourth World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas, held in Caracas, Venezuela in 1992 agreed upon this definition. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has revised the definition of the protected area and it was prepared at a meeting on the categories in Almeria, Spain in May 2007. In the new definition, protected area is: “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values” (Dudley, 2008).The IUCN system classifies all the protected areas into 6 categories based on the principle of management objectives and varying intensities of use (ICEM, 2003).
I Strict Nature Reserve/Wilderness Area: Areas of land and/or sea possessing outstanding or representative ecosystems, geological or physiological features and/or species, available primarily for scientific research and/or environmental monitoring; or large areas of unmodified or slightly modified land, and/or sea, retaining their natural character and influence, without permanent or significant habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition.
II National Park: Protected Areas Managed Mainly for Ecosystem Conservation and Recreation. Natural areas of land and/or sea, designated to (a) protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for this and future generations, (b) exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area, and (c) provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible.
III Natural Monument: Protected Areas Managed Mainly for Conservation of Specific Features. Areas containing one or more specific natural or natural/cultural
feature which is of outstanding or unique value because of its inherent rarity,
representative or aesthetic qualities or cultural significance.
IV Habitat/Species Management Area: Protected Areas Managed Mainly for Conservation Through Management Intervention. Areas of land and/or sea subject to active intervention for management purposes so as to ensure the maintenance of habitats and/or to meet the requirements of specific species.
V Protected Landscape/Seascape: Protected Areas Managed Mainly for Landscape/Seascape Conservation and Recreation. Areas of land, with coast and sea as appropriate, where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant aesthetic, cultural and/or ecological value, and often with high biological diversity. Safeguarding the integrity of this traditional interaction is vital to the protection, maintenance and evolution of such an area.
VI Managed Resource Protected Area: Protected Areas Managed Mainly for the Sustainable Use of Natural Ecosystems. Areas containing predominantly unmodified natural systems managed to ensure long-term protection and maintenance of biological diversity, while providing at the same time a sustainable flow of natural products and services to meet community needs.
The IUCN guidelines on applying the categories emphasize that all categories are important and needed for conservation and sustainable development. All the countries are encouraged to develop a system of protected areas in a wide range of categories that meet their own natural and cultural heritage conservation objectives. Each category is defined by the “principal” objective of its management, which means two-thirds or more of a particular protected area is managed for that primary purpose. The rest of the area can accommodate activities that comply with fundamental management objective (ICEM, 2003). The purposes of this international classification are to reduce the confusion of terminology, to provide an agreed set of international management standards and to facilitate international comparison and accounting (Phillips and Harrison, 1997).