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Transboundary Protected Areas


Protected areas that straddle the border of two or more countries are known as transboundary or transfrontier protected areas. These natural areas are protected by the governments and/or peoples of at least two countries sharing adjacent borders. This also encompasses seashores and marine areas. All of these categories fall under the larger classification of a transboundary protected area (TBPA).

EUROPARC (an environmental non-government organization) sums up both the preservation and political aspects of transboundary protected areas as follows:

TBPA's represent a commitment of two or more countries to common management of their frontier regions and shared ecosystems. Moreover, transboundary protected areas help to reduce possible tensions and are a symbol of peace with great political visibility.

There are many definitions of transboundary protected areas. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) gives the comprehensive definition of a transboundary protected area (TBPA) as:

an area of land and/or sea that straddles one or more borders between states, sub-national units such as provinces and regions, autonomous areas and/or areas beyond the limit of national sovereignty or jurisdiction, whose constituent parts are especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed cooperatively through legal or other effective means.

Transboundary parks and protected areas promote many strategies of greater abundance for humans, wildlife, and natural environments. For example, political and border conflicts are certainly not promoted in an area where two nations are sharing a peaceful property for conservation purposes. Countries should be less inclined to pollute the water, air, or land of a neighboring country when the two share a park. TBPAs and all of the variations which they encompass can be viewed as tools to achieve sustainability and equity.

Context within NORA

Relationships to Resources

Resources listed on the parent page, Land for Nature Preservation, also apply here. However, some specifications can be made in the context of transboundary parks and conservation areas.

Living Things – In a TBPA, plant species and animal species can coexist and roam/grow on both sides of a human-designated border between two countries. A particular characteristic of TBPAs which promotes this freedom of existence for plants and animals is the removal of border fences within the designated protected area. Habitats and ecosystems are also better protected within the boundaries of a TBPA, as citizens of the adjoining countries are dedicated to the wellbeing of biodiversity in the entire protected region, not just within their own country.

Air quality near the earth's surface – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that "air pollution does not stop at national borders." In 1979, the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution was held. This convention sparked interest among the international community and has led to a number of efforts to deal with the transboundary effects of air pollution. One example of action is Japan's effort to work with China in order to reduce the amount of pollutants traveling downwind from China into Japan. Given the current political issues between the two countries, it remains to be seen whether China and Japan will reach an agreement.

Designating and protecting natural lands from the threats of oil drilling and other developments can ensure the continued existence of large areas of land where air pollution is avoided, as well as land where air quality is improved (i.e., through trees and other plants filtering impurities out of the air).

Fresh and marine water (surface, groundwater) – Sources of fresh water are closely intertwined with the preservation of natural lands. Water plays a vital role in the maintenance of natural ecosystems, and covers over 2/3 of the earth's surface. Keeping water fresh and free of pollution is vital for the health of both land and sea-dwelling wildlife. Transboundary marine protected areas are a growing segment of the TBPA movement.

Ice (glaciers, ice caps, permafrost) – A number of nature reserves worldwide are dedicated to preserving glaciers and tundra – however, with climate change in recent years, many of the glaciers have started to recede at a quickened pace. Many preserved lands at high elevations depend upon regular melting and re-freezing of snowpack and ice caps.

Minerals – Mining in natural lands has many effects on the local ecoystems and can be detrimental to not only the scenery, but to the living beings of the area as well. TBPAs can limit the amount of mining that occurs.

Habitats and ecosystems – Political and historical borders between nations do not equate to borders between habitats and ecosystems, as borders are rarely designated based on the surrounding environment. Encompassing plant and animal species, ice, water, and air, habitats and ecosystems are naturally connected to, and contained within, all land. Humans have altered or destroyed innumerable habitats and ecosystems for hundreds of years; by preserving land we maintain the relatively few natural ecosystems that remain intact. Cooperation across borders is essential in protecting the ecosystems which predate the modern human societies (namely industrial societies) that also share the land.

Knowledge – Scientists, biologists, and all human beings can acquire useful information within naturally preserved land. Biologists have played a major role in maintaining ecosystems and wildlife.

Spirituality – Human beings belong in nature, and entering a natural space free of anything artificial can be beneficial to the mind and spirit. Roaming in a forest, viewing a mountain or sandstone arch, gazing up at stars and the arc of the Milky Way in the night sky untouched by light pollution, and contemplating the wonders of nature can be important spiritual experiences. It is of particular importance to have access to nature even in conflicted areas. Political and historical borders should not be an impediment to experiencing the fullness of nature.


Relationships to Needs

Being at Home and Shelter/Housing – The use of natural resources in the building of homes and other buildings can do serious damage to the environment. On the other hand, another negative implication of setting aside lands for preservation has been the practice of forcing out the people who had previously inhabited that land, thus compromising their need for shelter/housing on the land they had known as 'home'. While such actions are often justified by the need of the animals and plants of the region to have their own home (i.e., natural habitat), an approach consistent with abundance is to look for ways by which both natural habitat and human livelihoods can be preserved.

Clean air and water – like other nature reserves, TBPAs can contribute to keeping our air and water clean.

Opportunities to learn – Human beings have a need to learn, and should be able to learn anything and everything relevant to their own lives. TBPAs can be useful spaces in which to learn more about natural habitats, other cultures, the landscapes of other countries, and ourselves.

Participation in decision-making – For TBPAs to be managed successfully, it is important that all relevant stakeholders are able to participate in decision-making processes, and that these processes are structured so as to allow timely decisions supportive of conservation goals while recognizing the needs of all people concerned.


Relationships to Organizational Forms

Natural Resource Management Cluster – TBPAs involve varying combinations of government-owned land and common property. Nonrenewable resources, water, timber, wildlife, and biodiversity are protected within the boundaries of transboundary parks and protected areas. Natural resource management pertains to all natural resources, many of which are in need of protection.

Community Solidarity Cluster – TBPAs encourage solidarity on the basis of shared environments, shared humanity, and shared status as living beings. However, it must be noted that some protected areas were originally established through coercion and denial of choice. TBPAs and their acting coordinators must work to overcome this legacy.

Committed Sales or Services – The management of TBPAs involves long-term relationships among various stakeholders (at least two governments, local residents, park managers, among others). These need to be governed by locally appropriate long-term agreements or contracts.


Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) proposed the first transboundary protected area in 1932. That same year, the United States and Canada established the first International Peace Park (Waterton Glacier) by combining the United States' Glacier National Park with Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park. As a TBPA and Peace Park, Waterton Glacier remains today as a symbol of peace between the two countries.

A global inventory of TBPAs taken in 2007 identified 227 TBPA complexes. Within these complexes are over 3,000 individual protected areas. Many of the 227 TBPA complexes are unnamed, but are understood to be natural areas which fall under the protection of two or more countries. Here is a map of global TBPAs.

Transboundary cooperation in managing natural land can provide many opportunities for abundance to all involved. The TBPA concept promotes international cooperation in a very different way than a diplomatic meeting could. More effective research on ecosystems can be facilitated when the researchers are welcomed to the other side of the border. The IUCN also lists the following as principal benefits: enhancing environmental protection across ecosystems, bringing economic benefits to local and national economies, and ensuring better cross-border control of issues like fire, invasive pests, poaching, pollution, and smuggling.

Transboundary parks are established in legislation through the communication of government officials. Communication among people that live along the border is equally important in the success or failure of the proposed park.

There are different levels of cooperation for each TBPA. These are ranked on a scale from zero to five, reflecting how closely the governments of the countries work together. A ranking of 0 indicates that there is no cooperation or communication. TBPAs given a ranking of 1 have some limited communication and will cooperate on occasion. A park must be at least classified as a level 1 before it can be considered a TBPA. Level two is marked by consultation. Once a park gets to this level, progression to level five is much much more likely. At level five, the protected areas are almost completely jointly managed.

Catherine Pool, an anthropologist at the University of Nebraska, elegantly sums up the keys to success (and recipes for failure) of TBPAs and transfrontier/transboundary parks: "Without communication at all levels, from government to locals, the parks are unsuccessful. If the people at the border are not part of the decisions made regarding the parks they are much more likely to fail. If created and maintained in a correct manner, it is possible they can solve problems successfully."


Case Studies

African Parks – Africa is home to a large number of TBPAs and named transboundary parks.

Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park straddles the borders of South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, and is considered to be the largest animal preservation area in the world, as the entire park is roughly the size of the Netherlands. The park has been successful in helping the elephant population cross borders which were once fenced off, but through a complex series of poor bureaucratic decision-making, nearly 7,000 residents have been all but forced to relocate.


Peace Parks

A Peace Park is a subcategory under the larger TBPA classification. Peace Parks protect biological diversity and cultural resources while also promoting peace and cooperation between two countries. The IUCN defines peace parks as:

formally dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and to the promotion of peace and co-operation.

The Peace Park movement is especially strong in Africa, where 40% of all national parks are designated along borders. The Peace Park concept is based on the belief that the collaboration of bordering nations to share in the management of the natural areas that lie between them promotes peaceful relations between the collaborating nations.

The late Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress and first post-apartheid president of South Africa,  spoke out in favor of peace parks:

"I know of no political movement, no philosophy, no ideology, which does not agree with the peace parks concept as we see it going into fruition today. It is a concept that can be embraced by all.

In a world beset by conflicts and division, peace is one of the cornerstones of the future. Peace parks are a building block in this process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world."


Transboundary Marine Protection

70% of the earth is covered by water, less than 1% of which is protected.

The nations of South Africa and Mozambique currently co-manage the largest (and first) transboundary marine protected area in Africa. It was established in 2009 and connects Maputaland in South Africa's iSimangaliso Wetland Park with Mozambique's Ponto de Ouro Marine Protected Area. A stretch of 300 kilometers is protected in the area, along which commercial fishing and driving on the beaches are prohibited.


Issues of scarcity

As with the establishment of government-designated nature reserves in the United States, there have been some instances of encroachment upon the territories of native populations in the establishment of some transboundary parks.

12% of the earth's land surface is conserved in some form or another by the institution of over 100,000 protected areas. In contrast, only 0.7% of the earth's water is protected through conservation in 5,000 protected sites (UNEP).


Approaches to creating greater abundance

With increased effort, parks can help with communication between political officials and indigenous peoples who may not abide by the boundaries of countries. They can help give indigenous people their right to live according to their cultural heritage.

Peace Parks as an approach to reducing conflict – The IUCN has recognized positive effects of TBPAs outside the realm of biodiversity protection and conservation. The organization stated in 2000 that protected areas along national frontiers can not only conserve biodiversity, but can also be powerful symbols and agents of cooperation, especially in areas of territorial conflict.

Peace Park in Siachen – Ashok Swain, a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, has promoted the renegotiation of the Indus River Agreement of 1960 between Pakistan and India, as well as the establishment of a peace park between the two countries.

Ultimately, the key to establishing and maintaining a successful TBPA seems to be an overwhelming amount of support for the project by local residents. When governments have proposed these protected areas and moved along without the support of the local community, what tends to follow is a lack of transparency, communication, and overall faith in the project. TBPAs have been largely successful in protecting and conserving wildlife and nature across human borders, but have not been very successful in providing or maintaining a respectable livelihood for those groups living within the boundaries of the protected area.



Areas of Biodiversity Importance

Global Transboundary Conservation Network.

Marine Protected Area Governance



Mackelworth, Peter. 2011. “Peace parks and transboundary initiatives: implications for marine conservation and spatial planning.” Conservation Letters 5: 90-98.

Milgroom, Jessica, and Marja Spierenburg. 2008. “Induced volition: Resettlement from the Limpopo National Park, Mozambique.” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 26(4): 435-448.

Pool, Catherine. 2006. "Transboundary Protected Areas as a Solution to Border Issues."  Nebraska Anthropologist 23: 41-57.

Swain, Ashok. 2009. “The Indus II and Siachen Peace Park: Pushing the India-Pakistan Peace Process Forward.” The Round Table 98: 569-582.

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