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Peace parks and transboundary initiatives: implications for marine conservation and spatial planning


  • Editor
    Ashwini Chhatre

Peter Mackelworth, Kaštel 24, Veli Lošinj, Croatia, HR51551. Tel: +385 51 604 666; Fax: +385 51 604 668. E-mail: peter.mackelworth@blue-world


Increasing use of the marine environment makes the development of spatial planning desirable. However, ambiguity and connectivity in the marine system has the potential to create conflict between neighboring States, particularly in contested border regions with overlapping ecosystems and migratory species. Interest in the concept of transboundary conservation is expanding in the marine system. Increasingly, there is a strategic move toward attempting to combine conservation issues with resolving conflicts between States by promoting these initiatives as peace parks. Although this strategy has the potential to provide solutions there are risks involved. A review of nine marine transboundary initiatives provides insights into hazards and best practices that may inform future conservation and spatial planning in this system. Results suggest that, like most conservation, long-term sustainability of projects is based on transparency, the availability of appropriate funding, and governmental will. While the branding of marine transboundary conservation initiatives as peace parks may help to provide initial political impetus to projects, maintaining governmental interest is a significant long-term issue. This review aims to stimulate the debate on strategies for developing marine transboundary conservation for the future, bearing in mind the potential for conflict in these regions.


The definition of maritime boundaries has been a drawn-out affair, full of conflict even before the arguments over the concept of “the free sea” (Grotius 1609) and “the closed sea” (Selden 1635) were adopted by contesting States for control of maritime trade. Compromise led to the development of customary international law based on the territorial and high seas system which was later codified by the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea. However, the realization that a wealth of resources lay hidden within and below the waters has led adjacent States to claim wider ribbons of the marine environment, with the increasing definition of continental shelves and exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and variations therein. The sectoral and fragmented governance regime for the high seas and the area beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) allows competent States and organizations to appropriate a greater share of the natural resources (Hart 2008). If these regions are to be equitably and sustainably used, a balance needs to be found between the common heritage principle and the open access regime (Balgos et al. 2008; Molenaar & Oude Elferink 2009). While the governance of the high seas and the ABNJ are ongoing international debates, resource conservation and disputes between neighboring States is generally considered a domestic issue, and the focus of this review. Ideally, coastal States will create marine spatial plans (MSPs) to manage their maritime space (Pomeroy 2009; Agardy 2010). As MSPs develop, neighboring States will need to coordinate management where ecosystems extend and migratory species roam across international boundaries to effectively control these shared common regional resources (Brunner 2003). Does this increasing appropriation of the marine environment hinder conservation? Or is there an opportunity to advance goodwill between States and achieve conservation targets simultaneously?

Globalization and the rise of regional cooperation, particularly in peace and economic cooperation, have contributed to the development of transboundary initiatives (Katerere et al. 2001). The latest United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) inventory includes 227 transboundary conservation areas (TBCAs) worldwide (Lysenko et al. 2007). Although the appeal of these initiatives is gathering momentum seeking to combine two or more States for conservation can be a complex undertaking (Westing 1998). This is unless there are other advantages that provide for social, economic, or political gain which may stimulate and maintain governmental will and interest.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) provides separate definitions for transboundary protected areas and peace parks. Although a transboundary protected area refers to a region straddling international or subnational boundaries dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, natural and cultural resources, a peace park specifically adds the concept of promoting of peace and cooperation between States (Sandwith et al. 2001). In this review, transboundary marine conservation initiative will be used as an overarching term to describe these areas, unless the terms peace park or protected area are applied to specific initiatives.

Regardless of the definition, all transboundary initiatives require cooperation. The concept of combining conservation and politics to benefit in harmony, rather than at the expense of one another, should be attractive to both environmentalists and politicians (Hammill & Besançon 2007). Where relations are good between States, political boundaries may be fluid allowing parks to develop cooperation at management level. This is illustrated by the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park dedicated in 1932 as a symbol of peace and cooperation between the United States and Canada (Lieff & Lusk 1990). The management teams of the two parks collaborate on research, wildlife management, search and rescue, visitor services, and other partnerships (Prato 2003). Although cooperation is informal, its long-term nature has led to a high degree of institutional memory and trust (Tanner et al. 2007). This marks the positive end of the cooperative spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum is the conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The buffer zone between the two States has been a de facto wildlife refuge since their separation in 1953 (Thorsell & Harrison 1990). Despite the ongoing conflict the Korean demilitarized zone is now being promoted as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site (Lee 2010). At various other points along the cooperative spectrum sit the other 225 TBCAs recognized by UNEP.

Marine Initiatives

As with most conservation measures, work on transboundary initiatives has been dominated by the terrestrial environment (Ali 2007; Lysenko et al. 2007). Yet the ecological dynamics and legal ambiguity of the marine environment may lend itself to the concept more readily than on the land (McDowell 1998). Although borders may be defined on paper, they are blurred on the sea by the absence of clear physical boundaries, leading to disputes over “ownership” (Blake 1998). Biogeographical complexity and difficulties in undertaking direct observation make the marine environment inherently uncertain. Connectivity makes all forms of borders more permeable, enabling the free movement of groups and individuals of animal and plant species, as well as humans (Carr et al. 2003). Yet, as technology allows greater exploration and exploitation of marine resources, and maritime States declare governance over wider swaths, there will be increasing conflict. Cross border conservation initiatives are increasingly being proposed in the marine environment with some, at least partially, having nonconservation dimensions such as promoting peace, resolving shared problems, or creating shared opportunities.

A review of the available literature, including peer-reviewed texts, NGO reports, and official memorandums and agreements initially provided 20 potential case studies. After reexamining these sites, nine State-sanctioned initiatives were selected and are considered in this article. These sites were selected due to the presence of a governmental agreement or statement of intent to give institutional justification for the development of the initiatives (Table 1). This article summarizes the essential elements of these initiatives and their level of success. In addition, six concept proposals are listed and referenced in an attempt to highlight the growing interest in this phenomenon. In this manner, the article aims to provide insights and stimulate further debate to the role of these initiatives in the marine environment.

Table 1.  A selection of marine transboundary conservation/peace park initiatives (See Map S1 in the online supplementary material for the location of these initiatives)
Wadden Sea Area (WSA)1982: Joint Declaration on Protection between Denmark, Germany, and Holland
International Marine Park of the Mouths of Bonifacio (IMPMB)1992: Adoption of bilateral protocol for protection between France and Italy
Red Sea Marine Peace Park (RSMPP)1994: Trilateral agreement between Israel, Jordan, and the United States
Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA)1996: Bilateral agreement between Philippines and Malaysia
Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS)1997: Declaration for establishment of protection between Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras
Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals1999: Trilateral agreement between Monaco, Italy, and France, enters into force 2002
Marine Conservation Corridor of the Tropical Eastern Pacific (ETP)2004: The Declaration of Establishment by Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador
Marine Peace Park Korea2007: Joint Declaration of Intent between North Korea and South Korea
Coral Triangle (CTI)2009: Regional Declaration and Plan of Action endorsed by the six nations in the Coral Triangle

The Wadden Sea Area (WSA) is one of the largest wild marine intertidal ecosystems in Europe. After the Second World War, scientists from Denmark, Germany, and Holland documented the importance of this region, which was also promoted for conservation by regional NGOs (Enemark 2005). The WSA hosts important wild bird populations, marine mammals, and fish species in addition to protected habitats (Commission of the European Communities [CEC] 2007). Cooperative management for the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation Area is based on the Wadden Sea Plan (1997) with the overall objective to protect, conserve, and manage the area while allowing sustainable use (Enemark 2005). The Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS) is tasked to coordinate management, develop common targets, and provide for shared monitoring. Of particular importance for future cooperation of the area as an ecological unit is the application of European Union (EU) legislation. The latest Wadden Sea Plan (2010) incorporates all the relevant EU directives into management (CWSS 2010). The CWSS is funded by direct contributions from the three States with specific projects funded from various other sources, including EU funds. Finally, political commitment to the area remains high as recognized by the trilateral reaffirmed joint declaration on protection in 2010.

The trinational Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals was designated to protect the Ligurian permanent frontal system which supports cetacean foraging and breeding habitats (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 2009). In 1991, the area was promoted by local and national NGOs, with personal interest and support from Prince Rainier of Monaco and the then Ministers of the Environment for France and Italy (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 2008). An informal agreement was made for French support of the Pelagos initiative; in return Italy supported the French proposal for the International Marine Park of the Mouths of Bonifacio (IMPMB) (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 2009). The development of the initiative took advantage of the favorable political climate, high public opinion, and developing international agreements which resulted in rapid advances in the proposal. Yet although the Pelagos agreement was signed in 1999 and entered into force in 2002, there is no clear governance arrangement. The contracting parties meet on a triannual basis to develop the political resolutions for the area, but there is no defined management board. As such the Agreement Secretariat, which is understaffed and underfunded, acts as a surrogate management body (Notarbartolo di Sciara 2009). The change from the initial “visionary” stage of the proposal to the mundane administrative stage has also led to a decline in political will for the project (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 2009). Partially located within the boundaries of the Pelagos sanctuary is the IMPMB. This area is coordinated by the Office for the Environment of Corsica and Maddalena National Park, Sardinia. The IMPMB has funding and commitment from both governments, recognition as part of the EU Natura 2000 network and appears to be establishing a long-term partnership (Chevalier 2004).

The Red Sea Marine Peace Park (RSMPP) was initiated as part of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994. It provides for the sustainable use and conservation of the shared coral reefs of the region. Specifically, threats from increasing shipping had the potential to undermine tourism development based on diving and marine resources (Crosby et al. 2002). Jordan and Israel, with the support of the United States, agreed to develop a binational Marine Peace Park facilitated through the RSMPP Project. The Project, managed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), had a primary objective of initiating cooperative research and monitoring in the region (Crosby 2003). Although the primary objective was fulfilled and some cooperative programs are ongoing, the RSMPP has failed to accomplish other goals, such as the development of a joint management institution (Portman 2007).

The Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) is an initiative developed in a region with a long-term maritime border dispute between Malaysia and the Philippines (Guerreiro et al. 2010). The conservation aim of the TIHPA is to protect regionally important rookeries for endangered turtle species (Esteban 2008). The memorandum of agreement was signed in 1996 between Malaysia and the Philippines; however ongoing work in the region, associated with the Sulu–Sulawesi Seas program of the WWF, is promoting the expansion of the area to include the Derawan Islands of Indonesia (Trono & Cantos 2002). The initiative aims to coordinate information, establish monitoring programs, and develop appropriate ecotourism. Although there is a joint management committee, composed of representatives from both States and a framework for cooperative management, the areas are currently managed separately according to State jurisdictions (Esteban 2008).

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) is the second largest barrier reef system in the world, stretching from Mexico through Belize and Guatemala to Honduras (Kramer et al. 2002). The system includes important habitats, such as reefs, mangroves, and sea grass meadows, many of which are included in the 60 MPAs registered in the region (Agudelo 2007). The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef initiative was declared by the party States in 1997 with the large international conservation NGOs, including WWF, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute, and the Coral Reef Alliance, playing a fundamental role in identifying priorities, obtaining funding and engaging with stakeholders (Kramer et al. 2002; Arrivillaga 2007). Later in 2001 the World Bank sponsored MBRS Project prioritized strengthening of the existing MPAs in the region, especially in transboundary locations (World Bank 2007). In addition, the project has established two transboundary park commissions with an aim to aid consultation, coordination, and management (Guerreiro et al. 2010). The project has had high levels of political support and broad stakeholder participation. Results include the institutional strengthening of MPA sites, training of personnel for public awareness and education, and equitable transparent project management (World Bank 2007). However long-term sustainability is dependent on securing further funding and the establishment of a permanent coordinating institution (World Bank 2007).

The Marine Conservation Corridor of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) is an area of high endemism and biological diversity, and important for the convergence of major marine currents (NOAA 2006). Originally, envisaged to connect the Galapagos, Malpelo, Cocos, and Coiba regions, the initiative has expanded to cover habitats including coastal zones, island archipelagos, and oceanic EEZs of Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, and Ecuador (Bensted-Smith & Kirkman 2010). The aim of the initiative is to coordinate planning and management of the region, including the conservation of migratory species and the enhancement of capacity for MPA administration (NOAA 2006). The governments of the region committed to the agreement in 2004 with facilitation being undertaken and funded by large international conservation NGOs. Concern exists over securing long-term international funding, development of sustainable governance structures, and opposition to the concept by some Ecuadorian stakeholders (Bensted-Smith & Kirkman 2010).

Korean peace parks have been the subject of discussion for several decades (Thorsell & Harrison 1990). However, it has only been recently that the concept was extended into the marine environment. At the 2007 Korean Summit, the intent to create a Special Peace and Cooperation Zone along the disputed border of the West Sea was declared (Nam et al. 2007). The maritime border has been disputed and has been the scene of armed conflict, particularly, over fishing rights and the sovereignty of the islands (Kotch & Abbey 2003). The objectives of the zone are peace settlement and benefit sharing of the West Sea, specifically to address the mutual problem caused by illegal Chinese fishing (Nam et al. 2007). To implement this agreement, both North and South Korea have formulated a joint committee to create the zone. However, relations remain tense between the two States and little further cooperation has developed.

Although the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) is in the early stages of development there have been numerous projects in the region. The CTI does however represent the first collaborative project to be undertaken between the six States of Indonesia, the Philippines, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Malaysia (Knight & Newman 2010). The area incorporates over 5 million square kilometers and is highly diverse with around 75% of the world's coral species present (Pitcher et al. 2007). Within its boundaries are numerous MPAs, including the TIHPA. The scale of the initiative has two advantages: it covers transboundary ecological processes and has the capacity to attract large-scale investment from funders (Bensted-Smith & Kirkman 2010). The CTI is considered as being a successful initiative by the partners due to three main factors: the open and transparent working environment, the development of alternative employment opportunities, and availability of microfinancing measures. However, concerns remain over the financial sustainability and the development of long-term governance arrangements (Bensted-Smith & Kirkman 2010).

In recent years, several other marine peace park or marine transboundary protected area concepts have been promoted and documented, but as yet have not received political commitments by the States involved. These include the Spratly Islands International Marine Peace Park (McManus 1992; McManus et al. 2010), Kuril Islands Peace Park (Lambacher 2007), the East Africa transboundary MPA Network (Guerreiro et al. 2010, 2011), the transboundary MPA for the Northern Adriatic (Mackelworth 2010), the Wider Caribbean (Ogden 2010), and the Mediterranean Marine Peace Parks (CIESM 2011). The development of these proposals indicates the growing interest in transboundary conservation initiatives in the marine environment. However, due to various issues including: the emergent status of these initiatives; the lack of a trigger, such as an imminent mutual economic opportunity or environmental threat; or the absence of a high level advocate, has limited their development at the current time.


As resources become scarce and competition for space becomes more intense, States are seeking to utilize border regions which were previously considered to be both geographically and politically marginal. For States to undertake a transboundary conservation initiative in these regions, there needs to be a strong incentive to cooperate. In many instances, cooperative conservation also has a political or economic dimension. In the marine environment, there are increasing examples of cooperative agreements between adjacent States to exploit hydrocarbon deposits and straddling fish stocks (Blake 1998). And, as with the terrestrial environment, transboundary conservation initiatives are becoming of greater interest in the marine environment.

Although there is a wide literature on the use of the environment to facilitate peace building and trust (Conca et al. 2005; Carius 2006; Akçali & Antonsich 2009), there are suggestions that transboundary conservation initiatives contribute little to more peaceful coexistence between neighboring countries (Barquet et al. 2010). Fundamentally, to initiate marine transboundary conservation initiatives, there needs to be some form of political relationship between the cooperating States. Ideally, there should be support for the initiative at the highest level of government. Those States that lack any relations are unlikely to maintain contact long enough for the initiative to go beyond the concept phase. This appears to be the situation in Korea where nationalist rhetoric has an overwhelming influence on all aspects of society. In this instance, to consider joint or cooperative management of the West Sea could be perceived as a weakness by both or either States involved.

In the absence of political will for conservation, there has been an increasing “branding” of initiatives into peace parks to make them more appealing. This aims to entice politicians to contribute to conservation and goodwill between States. At a personal level, it may appeal to those individuals seeking to enhance their status or to create a legacy. Where the project gets beyond the concept phase maintaining political will is a long-term commitment. The Pelagos Sanctuary is a legal commitment; however, short-term political trading that helped advance the initiative to its designation has neither secured its governance infrastructure nor long-term effectiveness (Notarbartolo di Sciara 2009). Despite the peace park branding of the Red Sea initiative, it appears unlikely to ever fulfill its goal of comanagement between the States involved, due to the general political environment of the region and inconsistent political support.

While McDowell (1998) suggests that the marine environment may favor the adoption of transboundary initiatives and peace parks due to the lack of clarity in ecological boundaries and governance, clarity removes ambiguity for authorities and stakeholders. The WSA is a clearly structured top-down initiative with legal commitments and institutional funding. The WSA utilizes spatial planning according to the national legislation of the partner States, which have been coordinated to have similar structures. It is a simple clear system based on three distinct zones (Douvere 2008). In contrast, a lack of clarity has undermined the development of the Pelagos initiative despite clear legal obligations. The absence of an operating management board and plan undermine its potential conservation benefit, where initiatives evolve the maintenance of clarity and transparency of the aims and governance are essential. The case of the ETP highlights problems associated with taking short-term advantage of political opportunism to expand the area with limited consultation. As a result, some of the major stakeholders have become disenchanted with the process. This reflects critiques regarding the top-down bias of these initiatives, which without careful consideration may override local communities and stakeholders in an effort to fulfill international conservation commitments (Brosius & Russell 2003; Duffy 2005). In addition, there were concerns within the participating States of the ETP regarding the perceived threat to national sovereignty (Bensted-Smith & Kirkman 2010). Although national sovereignty should be recognized and not undermined, placing initiatives within wider frameworks is important. The MBRS initiative has focused on the transboundary aspect of the project which has led to a system-wide approach to management and enhanced regional cooperation. Clarity has led to the project being fully embraced by the countries involved due to its regional ecosystem focus (World Bank 2007). In the case of the WSA, there has been a conscious shift in management from addressing problems within the area to an acknowledgment of the importance of managing in a larger coastal context. Use of the overarching EU directives has provided consistency for the trinational area (CWSS 2010).

Economic opportunities and threats are also incentives for States to cooperate (Hammill & Besançon 2007). In conservation initiatives, the primary economic incentive is often related to tourism. In the TIHPA protection of the turtles was linked to the development and control of ecotourism, with a secondary benefit the reduction of the threat of piracy due to the presence of enforcement authorities (Esteban 2008). In the RSMPP, concerns over the potential for lost tourism and recreation opportunities were recognized as motivations for cooperation (Portman 2007). Many of the larger areas are threatened by the growing problem of illegal unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing is recognized as a regional problem within the CTI, along with localized destructive fishing practices (Pitcher et al. 2007). In the case of the Korean West Sea, the incursion of Chinese fishing vessels into the region is an incentive for the two States to cooperate (Nam et al. 2007). Threats from increased shipping were recognized as an incentive to cooperate in both the RSMPP and the IMPMB (Crosby et al. 2002; Chevalier 2004).

Ideally, conservation measures should be financed by the cooperating parties. Financial clarity has helped the development of the WSA, and in the case of the Pelagos initiative, the lack of institutional funding has undermined governance (Notarbartolo di Sciara 2009). In the absence of institutional funding, finance from third parties, such as UN bodies and foundations can be important. This can be seen in the large initiatives of the CTI, the MBRS, and the ETP, as large areas require large funds. However, size and profile may help the “sale” of these initiatives to external funders (Bensted-Smith & Kirkman 2010). Yet, problems may arise for such initiatives when funders become fatigued or move on to newer, more exciting projects. Large amounts of aid delivered over long periods can create incentives for governments to underfund or undermine good governance (Ostrom et al. 2001). Reliance on external funding for many of these initiatives, if no form of self-sustainable funding is developed, could lead to problems of aid dependence, as seen in other donor-related themes (Bräutigam & Knack 2004).

Many of the initiatives reviewed here have used third-party facilitators. The CTI, the ETP, and the MBRS in particular have had the long-term support and commitment from large international conservation NGOs. Third-party facilitators can help to maintain the objectivity and the focus of the initiative. Regional and national NGOs helped to promote the Pelagos and WSA initiatives toward formal recognition (Enemark 2005; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 2009). However, in some instances NGOs may have higher technical and financial capacity, and differing agendas, to the States they are supporting. Caution should be used, particularly where the facilitator agenda may override the objectives of the partner States as power dynamics can lead to a breakdown in long-term project sustainability. This may also be an issue where a third State acts as a facilitator. In the case of the RSMPP having U.S. facilitators may have led to actual, or perceived, asymmetry of leverage, due to the differing relations between Israel and Jordan with the facilitator, leading to an inability to build trust in the process (Stewart 2007).


The unprecedented environmental challenges faced by coastal States require a broader vision for successful management of the marine environment than the current fragmented national systems provide. As MSPs are being developed by States now is the time to introduce options that balance exploitation and conservation, in border areas this requires adjacent States to coordinate management and conservation of shared marine resources. However, environmental conservation alone may not be incentive enough for these States to cooperate. Combining conservation with developing mutually beneficial economic opportunities, addressing common threats or promoting peaceful relations may provide added value for cooperation.

In the preceding case studies, there are certain consistent themes that emerge. Key to the long-term sustainability of any transboundary initiative is the capacity to spark and sustain interest at the highest levels of government for all phases of the project. Coupled with this is the requirement for equality between the States involved so that there is no actual or perceived imbalance in the process. In some instances, balance can be maintained by a third-party facilitator. However, it is important that facilitators do not encroach on the initiative but provide equal support to the cooperating States. Although high-level governmental support is essential, recognition of stakeholder and local community rights is also important as loss of their support may undermine governance in the long term. This can only be achieved by sustaining high levels of transparency in the process. Finally, it is important that political support is backed up by a financial commitment and, where facilitators and/or external funds are used, that there is a long-term financial plan in place for after their withdrawal.

Maintaining environmental sustainability should be a good enough incentive for States to cooperate. However, the long-term commitment that is required for this does not usually coincide with political time frames which often require short-term results. Using pragmatic hooks to develop political support for conservation initiatives is not a new concept. Defining any transboundary conservation initiatives as a peace park, regardless of the relationship between the States involved, is in many cases a strategic decision. However, based on the previous case studies, there are inherent hazards with trading short-term political gain in the initiation phase of the project with maintaining long-term apolitical support in the more mundane administrative phase.


The author would like to thank colleagues at the Blue World Institute for Marine Research and Conservation, in particular Draško Holcer and Caterina Fortuna, along with the four anonymous reviewers and the senior editor for their comprehensive and constructive comments on drafts of this article. The concept of this article evolved from workshops in Piran, Slovenia, and Syracuse, Italy. The author also thanks the organizers of these two workshops, the Institute for Nature Conservation of the Republic of Slovenia and the Mediterranean Science Commission, respectively.