A WCS United Nations Ocean Conference Blog
By Kyaw Thinn Latt
June 8, 2017
Myanmar is a country undergoing dramatic changes, but I am optimistic about the future of marine conservation here and WCS’s partnership with our government colleagues for a range of reasons.
Myanmar is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia — with a long coastline and a large marine territory covering 486,000 km2, the majority of which is unprotected, lacks management, and is data-deficient. At the same time, Myanmar is rapidly opening up to coastal and marine investments, and its marine resources are increasingly being accessed and impacted by a wide range of stakeholders.
The gas sector is actively exploring Myanmar’s waters, seaports are under construction, and new markets for inshore and offshore marine resources are emerging with significant potential influences on fishers’ livelihoods and marine ecosystem health. At the same time, a decentralization process is distributing decision-making to states and regions.
As such, there is an urgent need to have a clear understanding of the influences of the political transition process on marine-related activities across Myanmar’s Exclusive Economic Zone and to plan for development that is sustainable. With these concerns in mind, Myanmar’s government recently formed a Coastal Resources Management Committee.
Following a civil war due to political conflict that lasted six decades, a new democratically elected government has demonstrated strong leadership in building peace between ethnic armed force groups. The government organized the 21st century Pinlon conference with the help of international support — especially from China, which has strong influence on ethnic armed groups.
The aim is to build a federal state of Myanmar/Burma through a dialogue among all stakeholders. We hope to use the same process to guide the management of marine resources, but we hope our dialogues with relevant sectors interested in marine conservation will go more smoothly than the peace process!
WCS has been collaborating and cooperating with the Forest Department of Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resource and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) for more than 20 years. Up to now our focus has been on terrestrial conservation in Myanmar.
Now MONREC is taking the lead on marine conservation in Myanmar and has formed the ambitious Coastal Resource Management Committee that is being lead by the Vice President. The Department of Fishery in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation is also showing strong political will to protect Myanmar’s ocean waters.
The legal framework for the marine sector is under development. However, the ability to take strong action for marine conservation is in question because the government will also need adequate technology, capacity, equipment, and funding to fulfill its vision.
Importantly, there is an opportunity for the Forest Department (FD) and Department of Fisheries (DoF) to lead the sustainable development of Myanmar’s ocean economy with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
WCS is ready to support these efforts utilizing four strategies: marine spatial planning; sustainable fisheries management; protection of endangered marine species; and strengthening environmental safeguards. I am excited to be part of this process to help conserve the marine life of my country.
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Kyaw Thinn Latt is Senior Strategy Marine Manager for the Myanmar Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).