Criterion A: Threatened biodiversity
A.1. Threatened species
This criterion focuses on species at risk of global extinction. Sites holding a significant proportion of the global population of one or more globally threatened species, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, can trigger this criterion. Population thresholds are determined by the threat status of the species (Critically Endangered / Endangered or Vulnerable).
Scenario: A pulpwood plantation has been developed in one of the last remaining intact areas of lowland rainforest in Borneo, bordering a river. The area is identified as a KBA because it holds a significant proportion of the global population of Asian Elephant, which is Endangered. Some of the forest had already been cleared, and much of the site, of several hundred hectares, has been approved for planting. However, the species still lives in remaining forest around the planned plantation, some of which will not be planted, and is on a regular migration route for these elephants. They will likely wander into the plantation and trample and damage the young trees, causing human-wildlife conflict and, in turn, there will likely be threats to the elephants from defensive actions by the company.
- Loss of important habitat for elephants and a range of other lowland rainforest species when additional natural forest is replaced by a pulp plantation
- Major disruption to elephants’ regular migration pathway
- Risks to the elephant population if they damage the young plantations, and companies react aggressively by shooting elephants or driving them away
- Social and financial risks to the company if it is highlighted as being responsible for destruction of the habitat upon which the biodiversity element triggering the identification of the KBA depends.
- Potentially increased flood risk to the plantation itself, if buffering trees around the river are cleared.
Recommended mitigation measures – a combination of avoidance and minimisation:
- Avoiding the site by establishing the plantation elsewhere, or not continuing with the expansion of planting on the current site
- Planning the plantation in a way that leaves a wildlife corridor for the elephants to follow, ideally away from the edge of the site, to avoid contact with the plantation.
- Further protecting the plantation against damage with elephant-proof fencing (electric).
- Training guards in non-damaging ways of chasing elephants off from the plantation.
A.2: Threatened ecosystems
This criterion focuses on ecosystems at risk of global collapse. Sites holding a significant proportion of the global extent of a threatened ecosystem type, according to the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, can trigger this criterion.
Scenario: A new road is being planned through a small wetland, to provide access to a mining site. The wetland is identified as a KBA because it holds a threatened ecosystem type, but it has no formal legal protection. The government is aware of the site’s importance, but has prioritised the road because it allows easier market access for nearby farmers.
- Road building will cause major disruption to wild plant and animal species, particularly if the road is routed on a causeway through the wetland, and will also lead to pollution from soil erosion and spillage of chemicals, introduction of invasive species and drying out of the ecosystem, leading to potential ecosystem collapse.
- If the road is built on a causeway through the wetland, this will divide the area and stop the passage of fish and other aquatic species, and may lead to the drying out of fragmented areas.
- Additional traffic will cause noise, pollution, and disturbance, particularly to migrating birds.
- The road may encourage additional settlement, drainage, and other consequent threats to the wetland, including increased hunting pressure.
- Construction and subsequent uses raise serious issues with regard to invasive aquatic species.
Recommended mitigation measures – primarily avoidance, if not minimisation and some restoration:
- As the site is small, the construction company could discuss with the government the option of re-routing to avoid the wetland; this avoidance could save money and potentially reduce the risk of problems such as flooding.
- If the wetland is really the only option, the route can be chosen to minimise its impact on the migratory water birds and their habitat and include passageways for fish and other aquatic species, for example using a bridge rather than a causeway.
- At the same time, some or all of the remaining wetland could be put under formal protection to manage hunting and to maintain integrity.
- Best practices for construction may be used, to minimise pollution, waste, and the introduction of invasive species; particular care needs to be taken to avoid invasive aquatic species.
- Impacted wetland areas might be restored at the end of the mining operation.
- A monitoring programme will be needed, for example of water birds and key aquatic species, to ensure that impacts are controlled and mitigation measures work as predicted.
A road will likely involve a number of companies (consultants, road builders, aggregate suppliers), none of whom have long-term responsibility for the land disturbed. Different actors will therefore be responsible for different parts of the response, ranging from the government (additional protection, long-term monitoring) to consultant engineers (routing) and the road-building company (optimal management, restoration). This poses particular challenges for long-term monitoring and holding responsible parties to account; each actor needs to be aware of their particular responsibilities. Primary responsibility in this case rests with the government, in terms of leasing licences and permits, and also with the main company or lenders, who have the opportunity to state conditions to other contractors.
Criterion B: Geographically restricted biodiversity
B.1. Individually geographically restricted species
This criterion considers species that only occur in a limited geographic area, or which have highly clumped distributions, and thus have few spatial options for their conservation. Sites holding a significant proportion of the global population of any geographically restricted species, regardless of its threat status, can trigger B1.
Scenario: A large forest contains a species of monkey that is endemic to the site, for which it is identified as a KBA. A planned gold mining operation will occupy 5 percent of the area.
- Road building for access and transport, opening up other areas of the forest, and increasing logging, hunting, and incursions.
- Hunting of monkeys for food or bushmeat sale by incoming miners and other operational staff.
- Localised impacts on vegetation.
- Noise and disturbance that displaces monkeys and causes social tensions due to territorial clashes with neighbouring groups of the same species within the site.
- Pollution (including mercury pollution) and tailings spreading into waterways.
- Possible longer-term settlement around the mine, with further ecosystem damage.
Recommended mitigation measures – a mixture of avoidance, minimisation, and restoration:
- The company has a number of options for avoiding or reducing disturbance through planning and location. Furthermore, there are opportunities to make a positive impact; an effectively enforced anti-poaching policy might also be introduced in these situations, to reduce overall threats to the monkey population by investing in trained rangers, social programmes with local communities, etc.
- Investigating options for locating the mine elsewhere.
- Carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment to define the extent of direct and indirect impacts and options for reducing them.
- Routing roads to avoid or minimise forest disturbance, fragmentation, and loss.
- An enforced ban on hunting and an anti-poaching policy, plus provision of subsidised food to labourers to provide a positive disincentive for hunting.
- Provision of temporary accommodations for miners to discourage settlement, and collaboration with the government to invest in food production for local consumption and for sale at the mine.
- Locating workers’ accommodation away from the sensitive site and recruiting away from the site.
- Drawing on expert advice and if necessary carrying out research to judge the impact of noise on monkey behaviour, with the results used to drive management.
- Best practice to avoid pollution.
- Full restoration of the site after the operation, in consultation with experts.
- Monitoring of the monkey population, during and after the operation.
- Aiming for an increase, or at least stabilisation, of the monkey population as a result of actions by company.
B.2. Co-occurring geographically restricted species
This criterion identifies sites holding multiple restricted-range species within a taxonomic group, often characterizing centres of endemism. Like criterion B1, there are few spatial options for the conservation of these co-occurring restricted-range species.
Scenario: A small part of an island remains in a natural condition containing a range of endemic plant species, for which it is identified as a KBA. There are plans to build a tourist resort on the edge of the KBA. The resort will be exclusive and limit the number of visitors, although the operations may expand if it is successful.
- Disturbance to the unique plant species during construction of the resort.
- Displacement of native species by invasive species brought in during construction.
- Killing of native vegetation as a result of spray drift from pesticides used on site.
- Destruction of native plants by trampling or collection once the tourists arrive.
Recommended mitigation measures – unless an alternative site is available, mainly minimisation with a commitment to restoration if invasive species establish due to the development. The key aim here is to protect the endemic species and their interactions in a functioning ecosystem, by avoiding direct damage and preventing contamination by pollutants and invasive species.
Direct visitor damage can usually be avoided in a high-end resort with limited numbers of people. The largest risks are from unintended side effects, particularly introduction of invasive species. Responses here are a lot about education – of both workers and tourists.
First, explore options for finding an alternative site for the resort, where vegetation is in less natural condition and the consequent impacts of development would be reduced.
If an alternative site is not an option, take steps to avoid degradation of the site and surroundings:
- Rigorous control of building and of any imported material to minimise risk of invasive species, with follow-up monitoring and removal of any non-native plants found.
- Ensuring that access routes and buildings do not pollute the soil through rainfall runoff with toxic materials (e.g. paint, fuel, etc.).
- No-spray policy within the resort grounds to reduce offsite pollution.
- Wise construction of footpaths to minimise trampling impacts.
- Fencing off the most sensitive areas with high concentrations of the endemic plants.
- Providing visitors with information about the fragile environment; make it a selling point for the resort.
- Monitoring plant populations and distributions and any potential impact from tourism with staff who can identify both the KBA trigger species as well as potential invasive species.
If any damage does occur:
- Restoration of construction-phase impacts or subsequent damage, and offsets if necessary to compensate for the area that has been permanently occupied.
B.3. Geographically restricted assemblages
This criterion aims to identify sites that hold an assemblage of species within a taxonomic group that is restricted to a bioregion, for example, birds that are unique to the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.
Scenario: A coral reef has an assemblage of fish species that is restricted to an ecoregion in the Coral Triangle, including a rare mixture of species and some unusual ecological interactions, for which it has been identified as a KBA. However, there are plans to introduce larger-scale commercial fishing operations to provide income and a specialist export market. The sustainable level of fishing at the site is unknown. Fishing will take place within an extensive and still fairly pristine reef area; there is no official protection. Local fishing communities are aware of the risks to fish populations and worried about scaling-up by outside interests, and they are prepared to collaborate on conservation. There are nonetheless risks of additional illegal off-take and use of explosives to catch fish.
- Overfishing will deplete fish stocks and reduce biodiversity.
- Fishing operations will directly damage coral through anchoring and impacts from fishing nets and use of explosives.
- Pollution from boats and processing operations will further damage coral.
Recommended mitigation measures – mainly minimisation but with some strategic avoidance and protection:
- Consider relocating the operation to an area where it will cause less damage.
- Find out the average abundance pre-disturbance for KBA trigger species, and the sustainable off-take of commercial species with quotas for company and local community.
- Ensure that fish breeding and spawning grounds (e.g. mangrove forests, undisturbed areas of the reef) are in good condition through minimisation of impact, and agree that these are off limits for fishing or have sustainable time and area closures, or gear restrictions.
- Introduce prohibitions for fishing of threatened species and sustainable use quotas for other, commercial species.
- Introduce and enforce best practices for fishing vessels, including minimising fuel leakage, preventing anchoring on coral reefs, and eliminating littering and abandonment of damaged nets.
- Monitor catches to note changes in numbers and size of fish; introduce temporary set-aside areas if fish population or catch size shows marked reductions.
- Take strong action against illegal fishing methods, such as use of explosives and electro-fishing.
B.4: Geographically restricted ecosystem types
This criterion considers ecosystems that are geographically restricted, usually through isolation of some kind (an island or a high mountain range) or through some past set of climatic and geographical circumstances.
Scenario: A high altitude desert has a unique ecosystem, with endemic plants and birds dependent on the particular geological and climatic conditions of the location. These include unique snow-melt wetlands, with associated species, surviving in areas of generally low rainfall. The harsh environment means that there has been little human interference, maintaining a fragile but pristine environment. However, a major bauxite resource has been discovered in the valleys below and is being exploited. A coal-fired smelter is now planned, and ecologists fear that the resulting pollution could damage the fragile ecosystem, particularly mosses and other lower plant forms in the unique high-altitude deserts.
- Primarily damage to the ecosystem through release of pollutants from the smelting operations.
- Additional risks to climate change from release of greenhouse gases, including perfluorocarbons.
Recommended mitigation measures
- Consider moving the smelter farther away, installing a local rail link to move raw bauxite away from the site.
- Install flue-gas desulphurisation technology into a coal-fired power plant.
- If the original plan goes ahead, monitor impacts on the vegetation and take corrective action if the pollution has reached levels where the ecosystem is being damaged.
Criterion C: Ecological integrity
This criterion identifies sites encompassing places not significantly altered by humans that have fully functioning ecosystems and maintain the full complement of species in their natural abundances and/or biomass. There is a maximum of one or two such sites in any ecoregion, and they are necessarily large (typically at least 10,000 km2), with high levels of intactness.
Scenario: An intact forest ecosystem maintaining populations of top predators has so far retained its ecological integrity, as a result of having very low levels of industrial human impact and population density. Discovery of important mineral deposits have now attracted the attention of major mining companies, which are negotiating with the government to open a large mine. This will bring many more people to the area and mean opening new roads, enlarging the nearby port facility, and running a major industrial operation.
- Deforestation and degradation.
- The introduction of alien invasive species.
- Influx of workers, boosting hunting, fishing, and the demand for food.
- Loss of ecological integrity.
Recommended mitigation measures – mainly avoidance, but with minimisation and restoration aimed at conserving the richest and most fragile elements of the KBA:
- Careful planning, to focus the operation on areas external to the site where the ecosystem has already been changed, for example through negotiated purchase of some existing farmland.
- Introduction and implementation of rigorous controls on all imports, to avoid both invasive plant species and the accidental introduction of rats, snakes, and other animals – with a rapid response if such escapes do occur.
- Provision of carefully planned living accommodation for workers and importation of sufficient food, so that local resources are not over-stretched.
- A ban on clearing forest by mine workers for fuelwood or other resources, and strong policies implemented to ensure hunting does not occur within the KBA as a result of company activities.
- Careful planning of any new roads and linear infrastructure that go near or through the KBA, with restoration of any damage caused during construction, plus full restoration through removal of the road if it becomes redundant again in the future. A road allowing access to much of the site would probably result in it no longer qualifying as a KBA under this criterion.
Criterion D: Biological processes
Under this criterion, KBAs are identified for sites that are important in maintaining biological processes of species, such as where a significant proportion of the global population congregates for breeding, feeding, or on migration, or during periods of environmental stress. Also captured are ‘source’ sites, which are responsible for maintaining a significant proportion of a species’ population through the production of juveniles or propagules.
D.1. Demographic aggregations
Scenario: Hotels are being developed on an important marine turtle nesting beach, which has been designated as a KBA because a significant proportion of the global population of the turtle species regularly nests there. Although the main turtle beach is being avoided, there will be hotels nearby and an increase in tourists.
- Turtles will be disturbed, with probable issues from light pollution and damage to emergent nestlings. Egg laying and survival of hatchlings will both be dramatically reduced, and another breeding site will be lost.
- Increased visitation will boost (often illegal) collection of turtle eggs.
- Pollution from the resort will further degrade the habitat.
- Improper tourist visits to nesting turtles or hatchlings will damage fragile habitats and reduce hatchling survival.
Recommended mitigation measures – mainly avoidance, with some minimisation:
- Implement a zoning system followed by careful protection of core turtle nesting areas during peak laying period and hatchling emergence, including employment of guards.
- Provide information for guests about care of turtles, avoiding disturbance, and reporting any signs of illegal activity.
- Monitor turtle numbers and hatching success.
- Run carefully controlled turtle-watching trips and make the presence of turtles a net attraction.
- Implement best practice to avoid sewage pollution, litter, and other pollutants.
- Ensure that the buildings have and implement the most advanced turtle-safe lighting systems (particularly during nesting and hatching).
- Construct hotels and other infrastructure outside of the nesting season.
D.2. Ecological refugia
This criterion covers sites that serve as important ecological refugia, which hold a significant proportion of the global population of a species during periods of environmental stress.
Scenario: A medium-sized coastal forest, one of the last such remaining in a dryland area, is an occasional refuge for several animal species that concentrate in significant numbers during periods of severe drought. A new ferry terminal is being established in the natural harbour immediately beside the forest.
- Destruction of the forest to establish port buildings, roads, and other associated infrastructure.
- Clearance of the forest by workers for fuelwood, building materials, etc.
- Increased wild meat or other hunting in the forest, due to the influx of outsiders.
- Gradual encroachment into the forest for settlement and farming.
- Disturbance and changes to the hydrology.
- Developments next to forests often result in creeping deforestation, poaching, wildlife trafficking, and degradation.
Recommended mitigation measures – a mixture of avoidance, minimisation, and restoration:
- Minimise area of forest that is lost by locating all infrastructure outside the forest area.
- Fence the forest in areas of high human habitation where it abuts the forest but ensure access to migrating animals.
- Liaise with port authorities to secure increased legal protection for remaining forest areas.
- Introduce strict policies banning hunting and timber collection by construction workers and staff, and strong enforcement of those policies and all relevant national laws.
- Ensure comprehensive land-use planning to minimise damage to the forest and environs during construction of the port.
- Locate roads in a way that does not dissect the forest area, to avoid blocking free movement of species and avoid use of the road for illegal logging, settlement, etc.
- Put in place measures to minimise likelihood of introducing invasive species at the port.
D.3. Recruitment sources
This criterion is aimed at places that are critical for reproduction and recruitment of a species, for example spawning grounds for fish. These are sites where a significant proportion of the global adult population size of a species is produced.
Scenario: The headwaters of a river are an important spawning ground for a fish species, which qualifies the site as a KBA. Young fish spread downstream and into many other tributaries, so that the area is a major source for the global population. Now, a hydropower development programme downstream is threatening to block the river and isolate the population, threatening to extirpate many other populations that originate from the headwater. Maintenance of ecological connectivity is the primary aim. This scenario is being enacted in many river systems throughout the world, as governments search for a safe and long-lasting alternative to fossil fuel energy.
- Interruption of water flow, preventing dispersal of the fish species.
- Increased pollution during the construction phase of the dam.
Recommended mitigation measures –avoidance, minimisation of impact:
- Carry out national river planning to work out the least-damaging places to locate dams and run hydropower schemes.
- Investigate, and where appropriate, develop effective fish runs or dam modifications to allow passage of migratory fish once the river is dammed. Consider assisted migration if they are declining below the dam.
- Continually monitor populations throughout the river system – perhaps in liaison with local fishing communities – to ensure that overall numbers do not decline.
- Potentially support breeding programmes to boost numbers of young fish.