All you need to know about Biosphere reserves

Biosphere reserves

  • Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located.

How did the biosphere reserve concept start?

  • The origin of Biosphere Reserves goes back to the “Biosphere Conference” organized by UNESCO in 1968.
  • This was the 1st intergovernmental conference examining how to reconcile the conservation and use of natural resources, thereby foreshadowing the presentday notion of sustainable development.
  • This Conference resulted in the launching of the UNESCO “Man and the Biosphere” (MAB) Programme in 1970.
  • One of the original MAB projects consisted in establishing a coordinated World Network of sites representing the main ecosystems of the planet in which genetic resources would be protected, and where research on ecosystems as well as monitoring and training work could be carried out.
  • These sites were named as “Biosphere Reserves”, in reference to the MAB programme itself.

What are the functions of biosphere reserves?

  • Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil 3 basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:
  1. a conservation function – to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation;
  2. a development function – to foster economic and human development which is socioculturally and ecologically sustainable;
  3. a logistic function – to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.

What are the biosphere reserve zones?

Biosphere reserves are organized into 3 interrelated zones: download

  1. the core area
  2. the buffer zone
  3. the transition area
  • Only the core area requires legal protection and hence can correspond to an existing protected area such as a nature reserve or a national park. This zonation scheme is applied in many different ways in the real world to accommodate geographical conditions, sociocultural settings, available legal protection measures and local constraints.
  • This flexibility can be used creatively and is one of the strongest points of the biosphere reserve concept, facilitating the integration of protected areas into the wider landscape.

What are the benefits of biosphere reserves?

  • The biosphere reserve concept can be used as a framework to guide and reinforce projects to enhance people’s livelihoods and ensure environmental sustainability. UNESCO’s recognition can serve to highlight and reward such individual efforts.
  • The designation of a site as a biosphere reserve can raise awareness among local people, citizens and government authorities on environmental and development issues. It can help to attract additional funding from different sources.
  • At the national level, biosphere reserves can serve as pilot sites or ‘learning places’ to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development, providing lessons which can be applied elsewhere.
  • In addition, they are a concrete means for countries to implement Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity (for example the Ecosystem Approach), many Millennium Development Goals (for example on environmental sustainability), and the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
  • In the case of large natural areas which straddle national boundaries, transboundary biosphere reserves can be established jointly by the countries concerned, testifying to long-term cooperative efforts.

India and biosphere reserves

  • With the addition of the ABR, 10 of the 18 biosphere reserves in the country have made it to the list.
  • The others are Nilgiri, Gulf of Mannar, Sunderban, Nanda Devi, Nokrek, Pachmarh, Similipal, Achanakmar-Amarkantak and Great Nicobar.
  • The BRs are designated for inclusion in the network by the International Coordinating Council after evaluating the nominations forwarded by the State through National MAB Committees.
  • The ABR would benefit from the shared scientific expertise of all the other members of the world network. The State is expected to work for the conservation of nature at the reserve while it fosters the sustainable development of its population, said a UNESCO official.
  • There are 669 biosphere reserves in as many as 120 countries.

UNESCO updates protected biosphere reserves list

  • The United Nation’s cultural body UNESCO has added 20 new sites to its network of protected biosphere nature reserves, including two in Canada and two in Portugal.
  • The status was conferred during a two-day meeting in Lima, which brought the total number of biosphere reserves to 669 across 120 countries.
  • In Canada, the Tsa Tue area in the country’s Northwest Territories that includes the last pristine arctic lake was added to the list, as was the Beaver Hills region of Alberta, which has a landscape formed by a retreating glacier.
  • Britain’s Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea in a biologically diverse marine environment, and Mexico’s Isla Cozumel were also selected for the network.
  • And in Portugal, the entire Island of Sao Jorge, the fourth largest in the Azores Archipelago, was designated a reserve in addition to the Tajo River region between Portugal and Spain.
  • The list of new UNESCO biosphere reserves also includes sites in Algeria, Ghana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines and Tanzania.
  • Of the hundreds of locations on the list, 16 are sites that stretch across more than one country. Spain is the country with the largest number of registered reserves.
  • During the meeting, nine extensions to existing biosphere reserves were also approved.
  • Meanwhile, the Australia ended its push to log World Heritage-listed forests on the island State of Tasmania , after UNESCO issued a report calling for the area to remain protected from logging.

India’s Agasthyamala among 20 UNESCO world biosphere reserves

  • The sustained campaign to include the Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve (ABR) in UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves (BR) has eventually paid off.
  • The Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve was included at the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere programme of UNESCO that concluded in Peru on March 19.284px-India_Kerala_location_map.svg

Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve

  • The ABR is situated at the southern-most end of the Western Ghats and spread over Kerala and Tamil Nadu and covers an area of 3,500 sq km at an altitude ranging from 100 metres to 1,868 metres above the Mean Sea Level.
  • The ABR covers the Shendurney and Peppara wildlife sanctuaries and parts of the Neyyar sanctuary in Kerala and the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu.
  • The area falls in the Malabar rainforests and is one of the noted hotspot areas because of its position in the Western Ghats, according to the management plan of the reserve. It is estimated that more than 2,250 species of dicotyledonous plants are in the area and 29 are endemic to the region. Many plants are considered endangered too.
  • Researchers have noted that about 400 Red Listed Plants have been recorded from ABR. About 125 species of orchids and rare, endemic and threatened plants have been recorded from the reserve
  • The Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve was the only site considered from the country by the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves during the Paris session held last year. That time, the ABR was listed in the category of “nominations recommended for approval, pending the submission of specific information.”

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