On 28 October, biodiversity researchers Ina Lehmann and Jean Carlo Rodríguez, both German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), hosted a digital roundtable on ‘Protected areas in a post-COVID world’ at the Global Landscapes Forum Biodiversity Digital Conference ‘One World – One Health.’
Scientists warn that zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 – resulting from a virus spillover from wild animals to humans – are likely to become more frequent due to the destruction of ecosystems and of humans’ ever-closer encroachment into wildlife habitats. In this light, the roundtable addressed protected areas’ potential contribution to environmental and human health. Moreover, it considered how protected areas’ natural resources come under increasing pressure during the pandemic as poor people in the Global South who lose other income opportunities during lockdowns seek alternative ways to meet their livelihood needs and as countries lower environmental protection standards for the sake of post-crisis economic recovery.
The panel discussion opened with a video message from Marciela Fernandez, a leader of the indigenous Cabécar community in the Talamanca rainforest of Costa Rica. She explained how her community has established a local food sharing system that guarantees them food security during lockdown while sustainably using the protected areas’ natural resources. This presentation kicked off further discussion among Herbert Lust, Senior Vice President of Global Public Partnerships and Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Conservation International Europe, Adrian Martin, Professor of Environment and Development at the University of East Anglia, and Anna Spenceley, funding member and board member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and chair of the IUCN Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group. Despite their different backgrounds and some differences in opinion, all speakers agreed that protected areas should continue to play a vital role in conservation but that broader structural changes in natural resource use patterns are urgently required.