UWA Oceans Institute

Myanmar: promoting socially sustainable uses of coastal resources

Ngapali Beach
Ngapali Beach © Dr Mark Hampton, University of Kent


Dr Julian Clifton

UWA School of Agriculture and Environment and the Oceans Institute

Myanmar is frequently referred to as the ‘final frontier’ in South-east Asia. After suffering decades of international isolation and domestic repression whilst under military rule from 1962 to 2011, the country has experienced momentous political and economic change in the last few years. One consequence of the decades of political and economic isolation is that the country’s natural resources had remained largely unexploited. The recent moves towards democracy and subsequent relaxation of international economic sanctions, including tourism, means that Myanmar represents a major opportunity for international investment and economic development.

Coastal tourism is seen by the national government as an opportunity to facilitate economic activity in rural areas and is the focus of considerable overseas investment in upmarket resort-style development. At the same time, efforts to promote marine resource management and conservation are being spearheaded by a range of domestic and international NGOs. This research is therefore focused upon exploring how and whether these processes will result in opportunities for a more socially sustainable trajectory of coastal development than that experienced by neighbouring countries in South-east Asia.

This research is being undertaken through partnerships with leading academic institutions including the University of Kent (UK) and the public and private sector in Myanmar. We are also working with the University of Yangon, which is the country’s leading tertiary institution. Our focus is on two contrasting coastal areas. Ngapali Beach in Rakhine State is the most well-known beach holiday destination in Myanmar, being characterised by open sandy beaches and small fishing villages. However, Ngapali is increasingly the focus of large scale hotels and integrated resort development, often associated with illegal ‘land grabs’ and resource exploitation, notably large scale sand mining from the beaches for construction purposes. Lampi Marine National Park is the country’s sole marine protected area and is located in the Mergui Archipelago in the south of the country and is home to the Moken indigenous community. The Moken, along with the Orang Laut and Bajau Laut of Indonesia and Malaysia, share a historic nomadic maritime tradition through a lifestyle based on houseboats and remain entirely dependent on marine resources for food, fuel and building materials. Whilst most members of these communities now live in fixed villages often constructed on stilts over the intertidal area, they remain key stakeholders in terms of marine resource management and conservation.

In both cases, the local coastal communities are bearing the brunt of the impacts of coastal development for tourism yet are highly vulnerable to policy decisions regarding marine resources over which they often have very little input. Our goal is therefore to secure long term research funding to work with these and other stakeholders to develop awareness of the need to situate communities at the forefront of coastal and marine planning in Myanmar and to ensure that tourism in coastal regions takes full account of the need for long term sustainable social and economic development in coastal communities. With the gathering pace of investment and development in coastal regions earmarked for tourism development, this represents a major opportunity for marine planning and conservation to reflect the needs of key stakeholders and to manage coastal resources in a socially and environmentally appropriate manner.

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