Reflections from the Wednesday morning session, “Protected area resilience & sustainability: the importance of spatial relationships in ecosystem service provision”

On the last morning of the conference, I made my way through three national parks in South Africa. Three researchers shared their insights on protected areas and the benefits they provide or lack thereof. All of their research centered on national parks in South Africa.

Graeme Cumming from James Cook University, Australia, kicked off the session by stating something I have heard a lot throughout this conference, “when you think about resilience, think of resilience of what, for what, and to whom.” He has applied this statement to his work on resilience in protected areas. These areas are not isolated from the outside and are created by someone to conserve something. They are connected with the landscape and the social-ecological system around them. His research also looks at the benefits that people get from nature. He did this by asking birders (a term used to describe bird watchers) to fill out a survey after they visited a national park. He found that the actual birds only explained about 30% of the benefits of bird watching, whereas the aesthetics of the landscape, the weather, and the ease of which the birder could move around the park explained a larger portion of the benefits. He finished his talk by tying it back into his opening. Graeme said “management priorities for protected areas need transparent goals; resilience of what, to what, and for whom?”

Our next stop on the national park tour was at Kruger National Park in South Africa with Dirk Roux, a researcher from the South African National Parks service. He presented two studies from Kruger National Park. Firstly, he showed that more than 50% of the research of all national parks comes from Kruger. The benefits of research flows contributes to the global knowledge pool leading to improved management of the savannah ecosystem and to learning at other institutions. All of which has led to improved policy and management interventions in this region.

Next, Roux introduced us to the world of Adventure Racing. Adventure Racing is a team competition that challenges competitors to run, cycle, swim, paddle, and abseil 544 km. The winning team completed the grueling course in three and half days on three hours of sleep. Whew. That sounds just a bit harder than any race I have ever dreamed of competing in. Dirk and his colleagues conducted participatory mapping once the competitors completed the race to find out what was important to them. They found that actually winning the race was of little importance, whereas the physical setting, interaction with nature, the challenge itself, and the team spirit were valued much higher. The benefits of the race passed to others all around the world through digital platforms as well. One race fan even started exercising after watching the participants and following along on social media.

Alta De Vos from Rhodes University of South Africa continued along this path, and shared her research on protected areas and ecosystem services. She found that the relationship between protected areas and ecosystem services is quite “uneasy” because access to protected areas are restricted and benefits from the ecosystem cannot flow to all the beneficiaries. De Vos argued for the importance of increasing the concept of ecosystem services in protected area policy and management plans. She said that this may allow managers to “tap into new pools of beneficiaries” and allow them to “embrace trade-offs” that emerge when looking at protected areas through an ecosystem service lens.

Natural parks and protected areas are necessary for conservation purposes, but also provide important ecosystem services. Graeme Cumming found that birders valued their experience more through their surroundings, weather, and species rather than by the amount of birds they saw. Roux also found that extreme competitors valued nature and the experience of being in nature more than winning. Alta De Vos on the other hand, looked at more of the negative side of protected areas which limits access and benefit flows. However, she and her colleagues hope that by looking at protected areas through ecosystem service lens will lessen these issues.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Ida Gabrielsson is a communications officer for the Sustainable Poverty Alleviation from Coastal Ecosystem Services (SPACES) project led by Tim Daw and Kate Brown. She has a master’s degree in Environmental Science with a focus on environmental communication from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Ida has an interest in making environmental science accessible to a wider audience. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but is now happy to call Stockholm home.


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