(Refer to Map
7 of Appendix for MPA sites and other relevant areas)
5.1 Coastal and Marine Ecosystems
With a coastline of 2,278 km, several large estuarine
and delta systems, and numerous offshore islands, Myanmar
possesses a considerable diversity of coastal wetland
habitats, including coral reefs, sandy beaches and mudflats
(MacKinnon 1997). Several major rivers including the Ganges
in the north and Irrawaddy, Sittang and Salween in the
Gulf of Martaban have created soft shores where mangroves
develop extensively. Total mangrove area covers about
4,219 km2, and only 0.6% is protected (MacKinnon 1997).
Coral reefs are only found away from river deltas and
mainly around islands along the southern coast, particularly
in the Mergui Archipelago. This string of over 800 islands
has not been studied properly since the 1800s (IUCN/UNEP
1988). Coral reefs are also found around the Coco Islands
north of the Andaman Islands of India.
5.2 Significant Species
There are no data on the ecology of coral reefs but 61
species in 31 genera have been described in a study (Kyi
1985, in ICRI 1997), suggesting a moderate diversity.
More recently, Spalding (2001) reports that there are
around 97 scleractinian coral species and 67 hermatypic
coral genera. Twenty-four mangrove and three seagrass
species have been described in Myanmar (Spalding 2001).
Four species of marine turtles have been recorded in the
country: Green, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill and the very rare
Leatherback. The Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
and the river terrapin (Batagur baska) occur
in the Irrawaddy Delta although the latter’s population
has declined to possible extinction. Dugongs are rare
and are mostly found west of the Irrawaddy Delta and further
north of the main
5.3 Legislation and Management Framework
There is no current legislation for establishing marine
protected areas (IUCN/WCMC 1992). The titles used in the
protected area list supplied by the Forest Department
(including their brief descriptions) are as follows (from
• National park. Maintained for biodiversity conservation
and representativeness. Firm management control. No
settlement or resource harvesting allowed. Visitors
• Marine national park. The same as national park
but in marine, island and coastal environments.
• Wildlife sanctuary. Species conservation. No
settlement or resource harvesting allowed. Visitors
• Bird Sanctuary. The same as wildlife sanctuary
but birdlife conservation is paramount.
• Wildlife Park. Wild animals held in captivity
and in the wild but on a fairly small range. For recreation
and education. No settlement or resource harvesting
allowed. Visitors encouraged.
• Mountain Park. Maintained to conserve landscapes,
geomorphological features, and sites of religious significance.
No settlement allowed. Visitors permitted, including
pilgrims who are allowed to harvest limited supplies
of natural resources – bamboo shoots, mushrooms
and edible fruits.
• Elephant range. A means of conserving the Asian
elephant. Can include villages, and may overlap with
other protected areas although the only one that exists
at present does not overlap. Covers a range over which
elephant herds move.
• ‘Protected area’. A misnomer adopted
by the Planning and Statistics Division of the Forest
Department, which failed to consult WNCD when drawing
up the declarations. This is to be corrected, and the
areas are likely to become wildlife sanctuaries.
The enactment of the Myanmar Fisheries Law in 1990 clearly
prohibits the use of explosives, poisons and toxic chemicals,
harmful agents and damaging gears, and thus prohibits
fisheries that can destroy coral reefs (ICRI 1997).
The National Commission for Environmental Affairs (NCEA)
is the focal point for all environmental affairs, including
management (ICRI 1997). It is mandated to advise the Cabinet
on formulating policy, issue guidelines for implementing
policy, guide and advise regulatory agencies on legal
matters, and formulate policies and strategies that take
into account environmental and developmental priorities
(Clarke 1999). Four specialised committees report to the
• Committee on Conservation of Natural Resources.
• Committee on Control of Pollution.
• Committee on Research, Education and Information.
• Committee on International Cooperation.
One other technical department is the Ministry of Forestry,
whose mandate includes governing all natural protected
areas, both terrestrial and marine, and biodiversity.
5.4 Extent of Existing Marine Protected Areas
There are two declared wildlife sanctuaries for turtle
protection in the country: Thamihla Kyun or Diamond Island
(88 ha) and Moscos Islands (4924 ha), but the marine habitats
are not protected. There is also one mangrove forest reserve,
Wunbaik (22,919 ha). Lampi Island Marine National Park
(112.5 km2) was established in 1996 to preserve the island’s
vast flora and fauna and coral reefs.
5.5 Proposed Marine Protected Areas
Three wildlife sanctuaries are being recommended for establishment,
namely, Meinmahla Kyun, Kadonlay Kyun and Letkokken Islands
at the mouth of the Irrawaddy Delta, for the protection
of turtles, crocodiles and shorebirds (Wells 1988; Scott
1989). There are also proposals to extend Thamihla Kyun
and Moscos Island Wildlife Sanctuaries to include their
surrounding marine areas and coral reefs.
5.6 Evaluation of Marine Protected Areas - Status,
Threats and Management
Little is known about the status of the marine environment
of the country. The 90% loss of turtle nesting population
at Thamihla Kyun and the serious decline in dugong and
river terrapin populations suggest overexploitation. While
mangrove cutting and encroachment by shrimp farming have
degraded some of the mangrove and estuarine areas (IUCN/UNEP
1988), dynamite fishing and sedimentation due to upland
logging have disturbed the coral reefs. Dynamite fishing,
mainly by foreign poachers because explosives are not
readily available to Myanmar fishers, anchor damage, trampling,
overfishing and over-harvesting have seriously degraded
coral reefs and associated flora and fauna (ICRI 1997;
see also Figure
5.1). Unconfirmed reports reveal harvesting of live
coral (for marine aquarium) and of coral skeletons (for
use as souvenirs or medicine). The offshore reefs at the
southern end of the Mergui Archipelago are already exploited
for dive tourism from Thailand.
The government of Myanmar has encouraged rapid exploitation
of natural resources. When the universities were closed,
many natural scientists became involved in the timber
and marine products trade to survive. Large government
joint ventures with foreign companies have been formed
to exploit commercial fisheries. There is little support
from the government for conservation.
5.7 Gaps in the Existing Marine Protected Area
Status and Inventory. Gaps in the existing
system coincide closely with the lack of inventory data
of sites. Lack of information on the marine flora and
fauna as well as lack of trained divers to conduct surveys,
especially in inaccessible areas, have hindered the effective
management of resources (ICRI 1997). Most of the islands
of the Mergui Archipelago have not been surveyed although
they are believed to have substantial coral reefs (UNEP/IUCN
1988). Cheduba Island and the islands off Akyab in the
north, and the islands between Thamihla Kyun and the Andaman
Islands are also not well studied.
Enforcement. Political instability has
basically made the management of protected areas difficult.
This has hindered progress in establishing more protected
areas and in enforcing existing legislation (Clarke 1999).
Public Awareness and Support. Rural inhabitants
in general are not in sympathy with government attempts
to manage protected areas and conserve biodiversity, or
are completely unaware of why these initiatives are being
taken. Many groups are downright antagonistic towards
any government action (Clarke 1999).
5.8 Priority Sites
Based on the limited information available, the Lampi
Islands and the Mergui Archipelago further north have
been selected as regional priority areas whereas Thamihla
Kyun and Moscos Islands warrant national priority.
A. Secure technical and financial assistance from experienced
countries for institutional strengthening and capacity
building of the Myanmar government.The government of
Myanmar is many years behind its neighbours in recognizing
and meeting the need to identify and preserve natural
B. Conduct major surveys to determine where various
ecosystems are found and the status of each. Surveys
should focus on little known areas, especially the Mergui
Archipelago, to determine its conservation potential.
C. Train local scientists to survey and monitor coral
reefs and other marine environments. The university
system in Myanmar was closed for several years, and
many well-trained scientists have already retired.
D. Organise training courses and study tours for MPA
planners and managers to neighbouring countries with