Abstract

This paper explores how the Ramsar Convention, a key multilateral environmental agreement for the world’s wetlands, influences the allocation and use of ecosystem goods and services. Focusing on the world’s second largest uninhabited mangrove island, Pulau Kukup, this study illustrates the social and ecological risks and opportunities surrounding protected wetlands. Interviews with, and observations of, nearby communities reveal that Pulau Kukup has continued to render regulatory, cultural, provisioning and supporting ecosystem services under different governance regimes and institutional arrangements. Under the current governance regime, national conservation agencies focus largely on conservation and have struggled to implement the principles of wise use as specified by the Ramsar Convention. Nevertheless, such strict local (formal) conservation rules restricting public access have improved the ecological integrity of the mangrove island, with little negative impact on the locals. While restrictions in access may be seen as a trade-off for local communities wishing to pursue cultural activities, tourism linked to the island’s Ramsar designation has boosted the local economy. Despite these benefits, changes in property rights and growing influxes of tourists visiting the protected wetland may affect the long-term ecological integrity and the balance between wetlands, communities, livelihood options, and sustainability. Such challenges demand governance that recognises and responds to these emerging issues.