Conservation and GIS

By: Irfan Ashraf, WWF-Pakistan, Date:2010-03-02

“By encouraging conservation, increasing investments in clean, renewable sources of energy, and promoting increased domestic production of oil and gas, we can build a more secure future for our country.” Ron Lewis

Conservation and GIS
An approach to Protected Areas Physical Boundaries

This article tries to portray an image of GIS on the canvas of Conservation. An example is taken from a currently running project from the GIS laboratory of WWF – Pakistan is taken as an example study in the field of conservation. It outlines the implementation approach of GIS based study of boundary- delineation of seven protected areas. Methodology is based upon some certain predefined steps described in brief. As an outcome of the study a notification format is presented to Government stakeholders for the demarcation process. This proposed notification format is totally GIS based.


Passing through the millennium’s fast paced life if we look a few years in future many questions will arise in our minds regarding the environment -  “Will nature remain the same? ”, “Where will the wildlife go?” , “Will we be in a position to get clean, healthy air?”. On the other hand if we consider the reasons for the destruction of nature, humans will be at the top. In our daily life we hear about the energy crisis and it worries us. An article on Wikipedia quotes “Energy conservation results in an increase of financial capital, environmental value, national security, personal security, and human comfort. And Energy conservation is achieved through efficient energy use, in which case, energy use is decreased while achieving a similar outcome, or by reduced consumption of energy services.”

These were the few words that clearly depict that human nature is responsible for the destruction of nature. But at the same time, humans are the only entities who can help to conserve the beauty of nature.

Under the umbrella of this article we are going to discover a very important aspect of newly emerging technologies “Geographic Information System” and “Remote Sensing” that can help us in the conservation.

GIS is a tool that manages, analyzes, and models data from our environment so that we can make decisions based on that information to better conserve its resources and protect its biodiversity.(An article on http://www.esri.com/industries/conservation/index.html)

Many NGOs in Pakistan are working for nature conservation. For example WWF – Pakistan is running a number of projects in this regard: “WWF - Pakistan sees two main areas of transition: helping develop conservation plans for the country’s most important ecological regions, and amalgamating the many discrete projects into a more holistic overall conservation programme”.(wwfpak.org)

Commonly it is assumed that nature has no boundaries and time constraints. But under current circumstances it becomes very important to define a boundary line between nature and humans. Not because nature disturbs humans but the reason is that humans are also disturbing nature.

Understanding the complexities in the management of protected areas a project is designed on the panel of GIS Laboratory of WWF – Pakistan in collaboration with PPEPCA and Ministry of Environment with a title of “Boundary Delineation and renotification of Protected Areas Project”. Under this Project, WWF - P is delineating boundaries of seven selected PAs (Figure 1).

Boundaries of Protected Areas

Protected Area are defined as “An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources; and managed through legal or other effective means” (IUCN, 1994).

In Pakistan, there are more than 230 Protected Areas (PAs) which cover almost 11% land (2,753,357 hectares) of the country. These PAs represent almost every ecological, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem and are considerably important for their ecological and socio-economic services. Currently available information about PAs boundaries are only in the form of notifications and sketch maps. Most of the notifications are without any reference whereas in some notifications localities, roads, water channels or any other landmarks are considered as a reference. Such references are not reliable in the long run as the land conditions change with the passage of time i.e. a shift in water channel or migration of certain locality. These references are much generalized and hence cause inaccuracies in position as well as in areas. On the other hand, GIS provides an opportunity to define boundary of a certain region with geographic information. Hence to avoid ambiguities and errors, need of a GIS based notification was identified. (Report; Boundary Delineation of Hingol National Park march 2009..not published )

When someone talks about land based entity, definitely boundary matters. According to the dictionary ‘boundary’ is defines as follows: “In political geography an imaginary line between two nations separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of another”(ambrose bierce, the devils dictionary, referenced from a presentation on PA Boundaries-a national and international  perspective by Richard Garstang)

Fitting the Protected Areas in this definition we will be separating the rights of ecology of land from the rights of humans.

Project Outlines

Study Area

In its first phase seven protected areas were selected as a model study;

I.   Ayubia National Park
II.  Hingol National Park
III. Kathar Game Reserve
IV.  Khunjerab National Park
V.   Kirthar  Protected Areas Complex
VI.  Machiara Narional Park
VII. Margallah Hills National Park

References from the report of Hingol National Park are taken for this particular write-up. Hingol National Park is geographically situated at Makran Coast at coordinates 65º 32' 12" East and 25º 42' 16" North. It is the second largest National Park of Pakistan with an area of 6,190km2 (619,043 hectares). In 1997 Dhrun, Hingol and the area in between Rodani-Kacho were declared as a National Park i.e. Hingol National Park (Ref. Notification No.SO (Dev) 12-VIII/92-93/FST/422-85 dated 04th March, 1997).


Materials and Methods

For the study, information was collected at different levels. Original notification was acquired from the relevant Govt. Department. SoP’s topographic sheets at a scale of 1:250,000 were taken as a reference. 15m Aster Satellite images were procured. Vector data at a scale of 1:75,000 were developed from different sources including ASTEER and Google Earth. ERDAS IMAGINE 8.7®, ArcView 3.1®, ArcGIS 9.0® and Map Source 4.0® were used for image processing, GIS mapping and GPS data retrieving respectively. Field maps, Garmin GPS 76 CSX receiver and a digital camera was used for field navigation and data recording.


A predefined top to bottom methodology was followed and all the phases of the workflow were completed according to the requirements.


A couple of detailed field surveys were conducted to collect the correct ground locations of boundary references, as ground-truth data always has an important impact in any GIS based study. Information from different reports was used to complete habitat mapping. Then a draft boundary of Hingol National Park was delineated on the basis of field survey data, Aster Images, Topographical maps and Habitat maps. This whole process of boundary delineation was completed under close consultation of Area Specific Committee.


Boundary References and Notification Format

Rivers, water channels, ground marks as Mud volcanoes and ridge lines were taken as major references. The side that is facing to the sea is delineated using references of bathymetric contour of 5 fathom.

A number of different notification formats were reviewed and a draft notification format was made to layout. This notification format consisted of three sessions: one was descriptive, second was GIS Map and third was the list of GIS boundary coordinates.

LandCover and Habitat Mapping

Keeping in mind the ecological significance of the area cover map of the Hingol National Park was developed by using the technique of visual interpretation, incorporating the ground truth data. Similarly existing reports and literature was used to map existing Fauna species of Hingol National Park.


The GIS based notification format worked as an initiative towards the conservation. The areas notified through this document will have a clear boundary line that will help the environmentalists and other major stakeholders to preserve the biological diversity of the Protected Area. The legally renotified protected area can have more significance in the form of physical boundary as well as the prevention from a threat to the biological ecosystems residing in it.


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