Thailand is one of the most biodiverse countries in Southeast Asia , considering its ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity . The country is located in two Biogeographies, namely the Indo-Chinese Region in the north and the Sundaic Region in the south . Ecosystem diversity is characterized by 7 major ecosystem types found in the country: (i) forest, (ii) mountain, (iii) agriculture, (iv) marine and coastal, (v) island, (vi) inland water, and (vii) dry and semi-humid , . Concerning the diversity of species, based on the plant biodiversity studied and surveyed under the Flora of Thailand Project  in 2015, Thailand hosted around 12,050 plant species. Later, various national and international botany journals on plant taxonomy published from 2014 to 2020 revealed 239 new plant species in Thailand. Additionally, there are more than 6,928 invertebrate species and 5,005 vertebrate species in Thailand in 2021, an increase of 274 species from 2015. There are also over 200,000 species of microorganisms that are diverse in terms of species, genetic, and ecological contexts .
Thailand derives many benefits from its rich biodiversity. For instance, watersheds, river basins and coastal areas perform critical environmental functions, and are significant in supporting livelihoods linked to fishery, recreation, and tourism. Similarly, Thailand’s historically vast forest coverage has had substantial effects on the sustenance of agriculture and in fulfilling the country’s demands for water and power. Furthermore, key sectors of the Thai economy including agriculture, forestry, and tourism (collectively contributing 20 to 30% of GDP), are dependent on the sustainable management of the country’s natural resources. With regard to tourism, Thailand’s forest and maritime protected areas are home to some of the world’s best known tourist attractions. In 2017, over 35 million foreign tourists visited Thailand, a record high. Additionally, in 2018, tourism generated $66 billion (THB 2 trillion) in revenues, contributing 20% of Thailand’s overall GDP. In the same year, tourism in Thailand grew by 6% – significantly more than the global average of 3.9%. Therefore, the country’s natural attractions and biodiversity are important sources of income for many communities, with travel and tourism supporting nearly 6 million jobs in the Thai economy .
Despite its enormous economic benefits , biodiversity is still undervalued in Thailand and its contribution to socio-economic wellbeing has yet to become widely recognized . As such, biodiversity in Thailand is facing multiple threats  and the country’s natural resources are being degraded . For example, the country’s forest ecosystems have been gradually decreasing; in 1973, forest areas covered approximately 43.21% of Thailand’s land area, which decreased to 31.58% by 2017 . Over 53 years, mangrove areas decreased from 2,299,375 Rai in 1961 to 1,534,585 Rai in 2014 , . In addition, most of Thailand’s beach forests have been destroyed to small patches . The country’s coral reefs are also deteriorating. Coral reefs cover an area of about 149,025 rai, as of 2020 - 75,660 rai in the Gulf of Thailand and 73,365 rai on the Andaman coast. Of which, about 32.2% of coral reefs in the Andaman coast are severely damaged, while 27.8% of coral reefs in the Gulf of Thailand are in damaged conditions . Furthermore, several animal species in the country are now endangered. In 2020, a study on the conservation status of threatened vertebrate species showed that 671 species, or 13.42% of all species in Thailand, were threatened with extinction .
Thailand’s biodiversity has long been threatened from exploitation of natural resources without contemplating their limitation and resilience capacity . The direct drivers of biodiversity loss in Thailand include the expansion of urban areas, ongoing development, unauthorized forest invasions (especially in protected areas), land use changes from degraded forest to arable land, illegal logging, deforestation, illegal wildlife hunting for consumption and trade, wetland reclamation, spreading of invasive alien species, and pollution .
Marine and coastal biodiversity in Thailand is threatened mainly by illegal fishing activities, including off-season fishing and the intrusion of commercial fisheries into protected areas, as well as pollution. Additionally, the country’s marine and coastal biodiversity is also threatened by natural factors, including coastal erosion and climate change .
Key policies and governance approach
As a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Thailand has been developing national strategies, policies and master plans on biodiversity management since 1998 , . Currently, Thailand has been implementing its fourth Master Plan for Integrated Biodiversity Management (2015-2021), with the following vision: “By 2021, people live in harmony with nature, and the government along with all sectors promotes and supports the protection, conservation and sustainable utilization of biodiversity”. To achieve this vision, the Master Plan identifies 4 strategies, as well as 11 measures. The 4 strategies are as follows: (i) Integrating the value and management of biodiversity resources involving stakeholders at all levels through participatory processes; (ii) Conservation and restoration of biodiversity resources; (iii) Protecting the national rights in terms of access and benefit sharing that is consistent with the concept of green economy; and (iv) Developing the knowledge and standardized database on biodiversity resources so that it is consistent with international standards , . The Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) is assigned as the responsible agency for the implementation of the Master Plan .
In addition to this, Thailand has integrated biodiversity management into a number of national policies, plans and measures, including the Thailand 20-year National Strategy (2018-2037); the 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017-2021); the 20-year Strategy of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (2017-2036); the Policies and Plans for Promotion and Conservation of National Environmental Quality (2017-2036); Environmental Quality Management Plan (2017-2021); the National Master Plan for Climate Change Adaptation (2015-2050); the National Maritime Security Plan (2015-2021); and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, B.E. 2560 (2017) . Furthermore, the Thai Government has introduced the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy Model, which leverages the country’s strengths in biodiversity and cultural richness and employs technology and innovation to transform Thailand into a value based and innovation-driven economy .
The country has also developed several biodiversity-related laws and regulations. Significant laws include, among others, the National Park Act B.E. 2562 (2019), which focuses on the reservation, conservation, protection, and maintenance of natural resources in national parks; the National Reserved Forest Act (No.4) B.E. 2559 (2016), which focuses on efforts to counter exploitation within the boundaries of reserved forest in accordance with the current situations; and the Wildlife Reservation and Protection Act B.E. 2562 (2019) to control ownership, trading, importation, exportation, and transitory movement of wildlife, wildlife carcasses, and products made from carcasses, as well as the exploitation of biodiversity . ONEP has also drafted the Biodiversity Bill, a harmonized law for unifying biodiversity management that promotes and supports the conservation and sustainable exploitation of biodiversity. The Bill aims to eliminate the disparities of legal enforcement on biodiversity issues and will serve as an effective mechanism for integrating biodiversity into policies of all relevant sectors .
Successes and remaining challenges
Great progress has been made by the Government of Thailand related to the management of the country’s biodiversity. Achievements include: (i) The Government has increased environmental budgets every year. From 2019 to 2021, the environmental budget increased by 88.32% (from 8.572 billion THB in 2019 to 16.143 billion THB in 2021). An additional 13.267 billion Thai Baht has been allocated for the conservation of biodiversity from 2017-2022; (ii) The Government has preserved and promoted a healthy forest ecosystem by establishing Forest Protecting Operation Centers. The Centers provide an integrated platform and serve as the headquarters for anti-deforestation operations, the reclamation of forest areas from illegal ownership, the management of national parks in accordance with IUCN Green List Standards, and efforts to promote patrolling standards reform in reserved forest areas; (iii) Natural habitat loss in the country has decreased. Forest area has increased slightly ,  from 31.58% of the country’s total land area in 2017  to 31.68% in 2019. Mangrove area increased by 86.37% between 2014 and 2018. Additionally, from 2015-2016 to 2017-2018, the area of wetlands increased by 5.06% , ; (iv) Thailand has shown an improvement in the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In 2020, wildlife trafficking cases decreased to only 28 cases. This number dropped significantly from 600 cases in 2009; and (v) Biodiversity has been integrated into national and subnational policies in accordance with the Master Plan for Integrated Biodiversity Management B.E. 2560-2564 (2017-2021) .
Concerning implementation of the Master Plan for Integrated Biodiversity Management, during its second phase of operation (2017-2021), by 2019, Thailand had effectively implemented 4 out of the 11 measures of the Action Plan, as reported in Thailand’s Sixth National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The 4 measures found to be effective were 1). strengthening awareness and education on biodiversity, 2). protection of genetic resources, 3). research and development of biodiversity-based economy and 4). preservation of local knowledge associated with biodiversity. The implementation of the remaining 7 measures was found to be only partially effective. The 7 measures noted for being partially effective were 1). integration of efforts and participation; 2). conservation, restoration and protection of biodiversity; 3). reducing threats and enabling sustainable use; 4). wetland management; 5). management of invasive alien species; 6). biosafety management; and 7). information and database management. Obstacles in enabling effective implementation of these measures were found to include a lack of efforts, insufficient application of technical knowledge and tools, and inadequate integration of information and planning between relevant agencies in addition to the lack of information availability and accessibility , .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Thailand is one of the founding countries of the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN), an international cooperation initiated by UNDP. The initiative aims to use BIOFIN methodology to solve financial and budget challenges in the promotion of biodiversity. 77 countries have developed fund-raising plans for the conservation and recovery of biodiversity and project priorities. Funding should come from many sources domestically and internationally, from the public sector, the private sector, and civil societies, and through traditional and innovative means. Through this effort, each country would be able to find different sources for investment on biodiversity that fit their countries the best.
Thailand has developed the fifth phase of its Biodiversity Financial Plan (BFP) (2018-2022) to bridge gaps in financial priorities for promoting biodiversity. The priorities include the following dimensions: sustainable tourism, wildlife conservation and protected areas, subnational government budget, and investment from the private sector. BFP provides two strategies, namely: 1) awareness-raising and capacity-building in all sectors related to applying the financial mechanism for promoting biodiversity to the national context; and 2) support for financial plans and financial tools for the management of biodiversity in pilot areas. The strategies also require a report on the study of potential investment in various projects, new policies, capacity-building, and the promotion of policies that enable pilot financial mechanisms .
The National Biobank of Thailand (NBT) was established as a result of a Cabinet Resolution in 2018 as a key part of the country’s infrastructure with regards to ex situ conservation. The Biobank's mission is the long-term preservation of biomaterial, including that of plants and microorganisms, and biodata. The preservation process, managed with information technology, is highly efficient and in line with international standards .
Goals and Ambitions
By 2030, Thailand aims to declare 10% of its total maritime zone as marine protected areas, according to the National Reform Plan .
- Biodiversity issues need to be integrated in the supply chains of various sectors, including agriculture, fishery, energy and tourism sectors, as well as that of infrastructural development. Issues should also be linked with policies to promote sustainable production, consumption and substantial development projects of the Thai state .
- Thailand must increase fund-raising in the private sector for activities related to the conservation and promotion of biodiversity and sustainable ecosystems .
- Currently, Thailand’s biodiversity financing is first and foremost determined by the national budgetary contribution and international technical assistance. Involving other sectors in mobilizing funds, increasing private investments, and using blended finance and other resources through different forms of public private partnerships are necessary and will require interaction with a broad range of actors with different interests, approaches and modes of delivery .
- Efforts should be made to pursue effective adoption and enforcement of recent laws and policies including the laws on forests, fishery, waste and wastewater management, biosafety guidelines and the policy on revoking the ban on growing and earning income from valuable timber species. Information systems should be developed to monitor actions and enable communication of feedbacks so that shortcomings could be addressed in the revision of these laws and policies .
- Build human capacity to mobilize action within national and international frameworks for biodiversity management .
- Capacity building efforts should focus on local government administrates in protection of biodiversity for closing the gap and limitations of the central governments’ implementation. The enhancing of understanding and capacity of concerned agencies at the provincial and local levels should be focused on planning and formulating projects to support the national policies and targets, designing operations in line with local context, and formulating local regulations to strengthen community participation in the protection and sustainable use of natural resources .
- Coordinate the efforts of all relevant agencies responsible for biodiversity education and communication .
- Awareness-raising on biodiversity is needed, especially promoting the community’s role in the conservation, recovery, and management of natural resources. This includes providing appropriate compensation for those affected by natural resource conservation and generating income from the sustainable management of biodiversity .
- Engage and enable new generations of participants, including the youth, the business sector and local administrations in biodiversity conservation, including by linking biodiversity issues with sustainable development when forging partnerships , .
- Strengthen international cooperation on controlling and managing invasive alien species, removal of marine debris, conservation of migratory birds, transboundary biodiversity management and resource mobilization .
- Thailand needs to develop a complete and comprehensive biodiversity database and link data between organizations. Such an effort would be beneficial to the development of policy and measures for the effective management of biodiversity .
- Keep up with emerging issues, such as synthesis biology, digital sequence information, high ecological importance of the coastal and marine areas, access and benefits sharing etc. .
- The System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) should become more comprehensive and should include data on water, energy, and greenhouse gas accounts, in order to provide supporting information for a more integrated, comprehensive, and evidence-based policy and planning process .
- Protect the habitats of important species found outside of protected areas, including by utilizing specific land use plans to conserve habitats of native plant species, migratory birds and wetlands of local importance .
 Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, The Kingdom of Thailand (2019). Thailand’s Sixth National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
 Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand (2021). Thailand’s Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 2021.
 Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand (2015). Master Plan for Integrated Biodiversity Management B.E. 2558 – 2564 (2015-2021).