A protected area is a portion of land or sea which through social, state, or private agreement has legally defined uses concerning its enjoyment, conservation, protection, maintenance, and management of its natural components. An area can be classified as protected when it holds significant elements of biodiversity, natural resources, and cultural heritage which benefits humans and future generations.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a protected area as “ a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”
Therefore it follows that protected areas are tools for the effective management of territories. Contrary to popular thought, protected areas are far from spaces destined for non-use, where humans are barred from enjoying the resources which exist there. Instead, they are opportunities for the practice of conservation and enjoyment of the ecosystems themselves as well as the services they provide to us in a harmonious and sustainable manner. In accordance with their vocation of management, protected areas should be protected by sub classifications also established by the IUCN.
The Dominican Republic relies on a National System of Protected Areas (SINAP) as part of its national policies on conservation and biodiversity. The SINAP has six main conservation categories divided into thirteen subcategories and 126 conservation units. Each subcategory is defined by the type of management required for the protected area under its jurisdiction.
Altogether, these areas cover 25% (12,441.91 km2) of the Dominican Republic’s national territory as well as 45,922.78 km2 of its waters.
(Map of Protected Areas of the Dominican Republic. Source: Atlas of Biodiversity and Natural Resources)
The legal instruments which classify the SINAP are:
All of which fall under the framework of the Ley General de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales No. 64-00 (link in Spanish) dated August 18th, 2000.
In the Dominican Republic, protected areas are grouped into various categories and subcategories of management, in accordance with universally-accepted norms by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is the Dominican Republic’s national institution which, in tandem with a group of non-governmental organizations, works to ensure the continued care of our protected areas. In the Dominican Republic there are six groupings for protected areas according to classifications mandated in the Ley Sectorial de Áreas Protegidas No. 202-04:
Areas of Strict Protection: where the main interest is continued scientific investigation and monitoring of local species, with little or no presence of human activities.
National Parks: where the goal is spiritual relaxation via scientific, recreational, educational, and tourism-related activities. Intensive activities exploitation of these ecosystems is prohibited.
Nature Reserves: which aim to conserve the initial state of a location lacking permanent or significant human settlement.
Indigenous Life Refuges: that serve as habitats and give protection to animal and plant species that due to their importance, rarity, singularity, and/or possibilities of extinction require protection in order to preserve biological equilibrium in the face of human intervention.
Natural Monuments: including caverns, caves, and areas with monuments or historical ruins. These areas of overwhelming value may contain one or more cultural or specific natural characteristics derived from their intrinsic rarity, aesthetic qualities, or cultural significance.
Protected Landscapes: areas where interactions between human populations and nature have produced a distinct environment, with a significant aesthetic, cultural, and/or ecological value and high biodiversity.
In the book “All Things Dominican” a collection of all the basic facts about protected areas in the Dominican Republic is presented along with beautiful images.
(Statistics of protected areas based on their classification. Source: Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources)
Ecosystem Services Offered by the National System of Protected Areas
Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans derive directly or indirectly from ecosystems with the goal of providing for their well-being and that of the general population. These services include the structure and components of ecosystems, as well as their functions and processes.
Protected areas hold high ecological, biological, scenic, and cultural value. This makes the SINAP important for the national economy. However, these areas are very sensitive due to the fragility and vulnerability derived from their condition of insularity. Regulated activities which are compatible with those laid out in the National System of Protected Areas are integral in maintaining the ecosystems’ capacity to provide services and benefits.
In this map you can see some of types of ecosystems found in the protected areas and the services that these ecosystems provide to us. This is only a small portion of the large benefits offered to us by the National System of Protected Areas, and a brief introduction to the importance of conservation and protection of the ecosystems and species that are found in its ecosystems.
(Ecosystem services of the SINAP. Source: Global Environment Facility project on re-engineering protected areas)
The National System of Protected Areas is paramount for national development, and its relevance goes beyond the physical limits of each protected area.
In 2015, the first attempt at placing an economic value on the ecosystem services included in the SINAP was carried out by the Global Environmental Facility project on re-engineering protected areas. This study concluded that the SINAP contributes approximately $2.7 billion dollars annually to the Dominican Republic; or 4.5% of the country’s GDP (2012 values). This economic valuation was an attempt to translate the benefits of the SINAP into an additional dimension, knowing full well that the actual value is much more significant, and that the SINAP’s most important source of value is the social well-being that it provides to all Dominicans. Additionally, the study lacked data which would lead to more robust valuations, thus it is safe to say that the SINAP’s real contribution is much higher than what was calculated.
(Valuation of the protected ecosystems of the Dominican Republic. Source: GEF project on re-engineering protected areas)
A social and governmental alliance is required to improve the quality of management tools, levels of conservation, and investments dedicated to the National System of Protected Areas. This could positively affect the protected areas’ contribution to the development of the Dominican Republic. The protection of the SINAP is undoubtedly essential to assure that the needs of all Dominicans are met. It will assure that the economic development of activities such as tourism is maintained over time, and guarantee that resources are available for future generations.