A new special issue of PARKS, the journal of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, published today reveals massive impacts on global conservation efforts seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The special issue dives deep into the long-term ramifications that the global pandemic may have on conservation. Included studies reveal major job losses among protected area rangers, reductions in anti-poaching patrols, and environmental protection rollbacks. Bright spots from around the world however emerged as studies showed Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) with governance power over their lands and waters were in many cases able to continue to steward their resources and protected areas even amid massive economic downturns and significant increases in local reliance on ecosystem resources for food and livelihoods.

WCS scientist Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai contributed to two peer-reviewed papers published in the Parks journal. The first, titled “COVID-19, Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities and Natural Resource Governance,” explores the ways in which COVID-19 is affecting communities from 40 countries who manage and conserve their own lands and waters. Findings outline the importance of self-empowerment and recognition of IPLC rights, which allowed those communities to utilize traditional medicines, meet subsistence requirements, help individuals sustain livelihoods, and govern, defend and conserve their territories during lockdowns.

The second study, titled “Marine Protected and Conserved Areas in the Time of COVID,” presents 15 diverse case studies of marine protected and conserved areas (MPCAs) from around the world as a framework for rethinking the future of conservation. MPCA pre-pandemic statuses are reviewed and compared to current state COVID-19 conditions, focusing on innovative post-pandemic conservation approaches that equally balance both management for conservation and management for sustainable livelihoods.

“COVID-19 has impacted people all over the world in many different ways,” says Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai, WCS Fiji Country Director. “But, there are many important stories of resilience to inspire us, and to learn from. For example, indigenous peoples and local communities with rights to govern their lands and waters were able to put in place protective measures to isolate themselves and maintain the protection of their natural resources, highlighting their self-sufficiency. Closer to home, indigenous communities from Nakorotubu District in Fiji decided to maintain a large protected area they had established with the tourism sector, despite having no visitors to the Park”.

The special issue comes at a critical time as vaccine rollouts begin to chart the path toward eventual COVID-19 recovery. We have an opportunity to better incorporate ocean conservation with pandemic response planning, and to rethink the future of marine area-based conservation tools, particularly for marine protected and conserved areas, to enable us to continue safeguarding marine resources. Findings in this PARKS issue give governments and other institutions a timely opportunity to thoughtfully mitigate identified gaps in global conservation efforts and infrastructure and bolster needed financial investments heading into the post-2020 decade of ocean conservation.