In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established and became America's first national park. The creation of national parks has been described as "America's best idea," and the concept has spread world-wide. Many countries now look to the United States as a leader in park and protected area management and often seek advice or collaboration with the National Park Service on issues of shared concern or interest.
Over 50 years ago, the National Park Service created its Office of International Affairs which has worked to facilitate cooperation between the U.S. National Park Service and counterpart agencies around the globe.
Our web site provides information on the mission and work of the National Park Service's Office of International Affairs and is a source of information for the public and National Park Service (NPS) staff who are interested in our international activities. We invite you to explore our web site to learn more about the unique and interesting programs the NPS is involved with throughout the world.
Equatorial Guinea could be the Costa Rica of Africa
By Natalie Williamson
Office of International Affairs
The National Park Service (NPS) regularly receives requests from U.S. Embassies around the world to send representatives abroad as part of the State Department’s “Embassy Speaker” program, which connects U.S. specialists (both from government and from non-governmental organizations) with audiences in a U.S. Embassy’s host country. Over the last few years, NPS staff have served as Embassy Speakers in numerous countries in Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia.
In September 2018, Becky Burghart, Manhattan Project National Historical Park Hanford Site Manager (https://www.nps.gov/mapr/index.htm), participated in an Embassy Speakers program in Equatorial Guinea, West Africa. While there, Becky visited several national parks and met with park management staff, academic leaders, and local officials to share her knowledge and expertise regarding park development, conservation, interpretation, and site management. Fluent in Spanish (the official language of Equatorial Guinea), Becky was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, and has been with NPS since 2002, holding a variety of leadership roles in Chamizal National Memorial, Mesa Verde and Grand Teton National Parks among others.
The Embassy Speakers program promotes understanding and diplomacy between the U.S. and other nations by providing opportunities for specialists to meet with their in-country counterparts, facilitating the exchange of management methods, best practices, and ideas. Through participation in the program, NPS staff help to fulfill NPS’s international mission by advancing conservation and recreation around the world, while also promoting US National Parks to international audiences. NPS’s participation in this program is also seen as an important step in efforts to broaden the relationship between the two nations; the U.S. is the largest single foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea, and U.S. citizens enjoy visa-free entrance into Equatorial Guinea, a right not granted to visitors from any other nation. Fostering international relationships promotes innovative approaches to problem-solving in collaborative atmospheres, greatly benefiting both countries in this changing global climate.
Though it is the third largest oil-producing country in Africa, Equatorial Guinea is beginning to look at new ways to sustain their economy, primarily focusing on the potential for ecotourism. With thirteen protected areas, cumulatively comprising eighteen percent of the country, managed by the country’s national park agency, Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo Forestal y Manejo del Sistema de Áreas Protegidas, the government has taken steps to ensure the protection of their natural resources; however, in addition to park management concerns, issues such as mining, logging, land development, and the bushmeat industry have created unique challenges for park managers and staff throughout Equatorial Guinea.
Addressing these sustainable development challenges, Becky shared examples of NPS best-practices in working through complex situations, while gaining a wider understanding of the scope of the trials faced by parks in this area. The protection of sea turtles is one example of the various dynamic challenges to conservation Equatorial Guinea is facing. Four different species of sea turtles return to Bioko Island each year (between November and February) to nest. For generations sea turtle meat was a main source of protein for much of the population. Through academic partnerships and community outreach and education, there has been a cultural shift away from this practice and the consumption of sea turtle meat in younger generations has significantly declined. Looking to the future, the potential to partner with U.S. national parks working on sea turtle conservation and protection is a potential way to continue exchanging information and ideas in protecting these important animals.
Another focus area during the program was the development, management and outreach to populations about park accessibility. Becky has considerable experience in NPS interpretation, finding new ways to connect a park’s natural and cultural resources to visitors in meaningful and impactful ways. Building off prior experiences, Becky consulted on urban park management, suggesting ways to manage and promote the diversity of the parks resources to surrounding communities.
Equatorial Guinea has significant potential to develop ecotourism opportunities. The country has multiple biodiverse ecosystems, fauna and flora species endemic to the region, and the capacity to increase its tourism rates with policy changes to visa restrictions. This is a crucial time in their planning process and in Becky’s view, “with its amazing natural resources, and its geographic proximity to Europe, Equatorial Guinea could be the Costa Rica of Africa!”