Govt, Environmentalists Discuss Marine Protection Area for Mergui Archipelago

By The Irrawaddy 10 November 2014

RANGOON — Flora and Fauna International (FFI) said it held a meeting recently with representatives of several government ministries and the Tenasserim Division government to discuss plans for the creation of a Marine Protected Area in Mergui Archipelago, located off the coast of southern Burma.

The two-day workshop, “discussed the biodiversity values of the Myeik [Mergui] Archipelago for Myanmar and the Andaman Sea, new research data from ongoing scientific assessments, key sites for marine conservation, and threats facing the ecosystems and fishing industry,” FFI said in a press release.

Discussions also focused on how a Marine Protected Area can be a management tool for sustaining coastal fisheries resources.

The Mergui Archipelago comprises over 800 islands of white sandy beaches, coral reefs and sea grass areas with a diverse array of marine life. FFI has studied the region in recent years and its scuba diving marine research team has identified 287 species of coral and 365 reef fish species, as well as reefs rich in echinoderms, crustaceans, molluscs and sponges.

The corals reefs, sea grass areas and mangrove forests are under serious threat from overfishing, destructive fishing methods, sediment run off and global warming, FFI said.

FFI program director for Burma Frank Momberg said, “[F]isheries resources have declined dramatically over the last decade. However, by establishing a Marine Protected Area network Myanmar will protect important nursery grounds for fish, such as coral reef and mangrove areas, critical to maintaining the livelihood of coastal fishing communities and the fishing industry.”

Khin Maung Aye, deputy minister of livestock, fisheries and rural development, the minister of the Tenasserim Division’s Ministry of Forest and Mining, representatives of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, the Myanmar Fisheries Federation and local civil society organizations attended the meeting in Tenasserim Division, according to FFI.

Workshop participants agreed to work on a number of initial measures towards establishing a Marine Protection Area, including mapping the use of the archipelago’s resources, engaging commercial fishing firms in the area, developing pilot marine protection areas, and identifying technological solutions for collecting data on fisheries, FFI said.

Apart from the reported government interest in conserving the unique marine ecosystem, Tenasserim Division authorities have also indicated that they are keen to develop the pristine islands for tourism.

In January, a Tenasserim official said four tourism projects could begin this year. An investment company formed by Tenasserim businessmen has announced it has US$50 million to invest in building hotels, houses, golf courses and shops on the deserted Khuntee (or Gabuza) Island, Eastern Sula Island, Langan Island and Tanintharyi Island by 2018.