At the end of October, UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme added 25 new sites, one of them transboundary, in 18 countries to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which now numbers 714 biosphere reserves in 129 countries around the globe. The International Co-ordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC) approved these additions, along with the extension or re-zoning of five existing biosphere reserves, which in most cases also led to a change in their official names.
Andorra, Cabo Verde, Comoros, Luxemburg and Trinidad and Tobago join the MAB Network this year with the designation of their first sites: Ordino Biosphere Reserve, Fogo and Maio Biosphere Reserves, Mwali Biosphere Reserve, Minett Biosphere Reserve and North-East Tobago Biosphere Reserve respectively.
“The time for transformation is now,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “Crises also create opportunity, the opportunity to change how we see our relationships with nature, with each other and with the Earth. We know that there is no future for business as usual. We need a ‘new normal’ for biodiversity.”
Four Member States requested the MAB – ICC to withdraw 11 sites from the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Australia requested the withdrawal of five sites: Uluru Ayers Rock-Mount Olga, Croajingalong, Riverland (formerly Bookmark), Kosciuszko, and Unnamed (Mamungari). Bulgaria asked for the withdrawal of four sites: Ali Botouch, Doupki-Djindjiritza, Mantaritza and Parangalitsa. Finally, the Democratic Republic of the Congo asked for the withdrawal of Lufira and Mexico asked for Islas del Golfo de California to be withdrawn.
UNESCO biosphere reserves seek to reconcile human activity with the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. They are a central element of UNESCO’s research and awareness-raising work to foster innovative sustainable development practices and combat the loss of biodiversity supporting communities and Member States’ understanding, valuing and safeguard the living environment. New biosphere reserves are designated every year by the MAB programme’s governing body, the International Co-ordinating Council which has a rotating elected membership of 34 UNESCO Member States. Established by UNESCO in 1971 as an intergovernmental scientific programme, the Man and the Biosphere programme pioneered the idea of sustainable development.
Sites designated this year:
Ordino Biosphere Reserve (Andorra): Located on the central axis of the eastern Pyrenees, in the north of Andorra, the Ordino Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 82.7km². It presents a good sampling of the biological diversity. Traditional agriculture and herding have shaped the landscape, dominated in part by forests of Scots pine, fir, sessile oak and hook pine. Notable for the protection of a number of rare and endangered species on the IUCN Red List, Ordino is home to the great Tetra, emblematic of the Pyrenees, the bearded vulture and the Pyrenees lizard, and it is a hotspot for Lepidoptera (butterflies). The main driver of economic development in the region has been tourism, which is highly dependent on the quality of the natural environment and the conservation of heritage.
Complex W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) Biosphere Reserve (Benin, Burkina-Faso, Niger): An ensemble of three former biosphere reserves, the site straddles the borders of emblematic West African biogeographic regions, including Sahelian, Sudanian and Guinean, which present a varied biodiversity. It comprises wetlands of international importance recognized under the Ramsar Convention, and is a haven for vulnerable and endangered species, including the cheetah, elephant, lion, leopard and lappet-faced vulture. The biosphere reserve is a barrier against the advance of desertification from the north. Its more than 9,400,000ha are home to around four million inhabitants in the three countries, among them Gourmantches and Peulhs. Both cultural groups maintain rich traditional rituals to ensure good crops and success in animal husbandry, their main economic activities.
Oueme Lower Valley Biosphere Reserve (Benin): Located on the south-eastern Atlantic shore of Benin, the Oueme Lower Valley, the biosphere reserve is a natural hotspot with Guinean equatorial biodiversity to the west and Congolese equatorial biodiversity to the east. Its diverse landscapes notably include tropical and subtropical humid deciduous forests, grasslands, savannas and shrubs. It also encompasses freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, home to west African lungfish and marine turtle species. These landscapes complete the range of ecosystems of the Dahomey Gap and complement those of the Mono Biosphere Reserve located to the south-western Atlantic shore of Benin. This rich diversity is also reflected in its cultural and religious aspects, in a region where no fewer than ten languages are spoken.
Fogo Biosphere Reserve (Cabo Verde): The youngest and only volcanically active island in the south of the Cabo Verde archipelago, Fogo Biosphere Reserve culminates at an altitude of 2,829 metres. It is home to various indigenous species, such as birds and reptiles, including the rare endemic López-Jurado’s Half-toed Gecko, Vaillant’s Mabuya and marine turtles (Green turtle and Olive Ridley). It is home to over 37,000 inhabitants most of whom make a living from the cultivation of fruit, coffee, vegetables and vineyards famous for their volcanic terroir.
Maio Biosphere Reserve (Cabo Verde) – pictured: This mostly marine biosphere reserve is home to several endemic species, including turtles and cetaceans, as well as an abundance of fish, seabirds and marine reptiles. One of the most arid places in the country, Maio features gorgeous beaches, which, alongside its festivals, craft markets and historic heritage, attracted a growing number of tourists in recent years. Most of the island’s population of close to 7,000, make a living from the production of maize, beans, melons and salt, as well as tourism.
Mwali Biosphere Reserve (Comoros): Particularly well preserved, Mwali Island is home to an exceptional biodiversity of regional and global significance with high rates of endemism among different groups of flora and fauna, both on land and in the sea. It is recognized as an area of high conservation priority by the Ramsar Convention. With a fertile volcanic soil and a permanent hydrographic network, the area could potentially increase its agricultural production, which is a challenge due to its fragile ecosystem. The area’s enormous ecotourism potential is, moreover, still untapped and could contribute to the region’s sustainable development in the future.
Asterousia Mountain Range Biosphere Reserve (Greece): Uninterrupted human presence since the Neolithic Age has left Asterousia, in the southern part of Crete with a rich archaeological heritage of scattered human settlements set in mountainous landscape of natural and semi-natural habitats, as well as natural areas of high ecological value hosting more 55% of the island’s animal and plant species. The Asterousia Mountain Range is the southernmost mountainous area of Europe.
Panna Biosphere Reserve (India): Located in the centre of India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Panna is characterised by forests and marshy vegetation, with an abundance of rare medicinal plants as well as other non-timber forestry products, such as Kattha, gum and resins. It is a critical tiger habitat area and hosts the Panna Tiger Reserve, as well as the World Heritage site of the Khajuraho Group of Monuments. The area has undergone substantial ecosystem restoration in the buffer zone. With only three urban centres and over 300 villages, agriculture is the main source of income, together with horticulture, forestry, and cultural and eco-tourism.
Bunaken Tangkoko Minahasa Biosphere Reserve (Indonesia): The Bunaken Tangkoko Minahasa Biosphere Reserve in North Sulawesi is located in the heart of the Coral Triangle of the Indo-Pacific Region in Indonesia. The biosphere reserve spans a total 746,405.92 hectares of terrestrial and marine habitats. The area encompasses a mosaic of ecological systems including a coastal area with coral reefs and seagrass, mangrove and coastal forests, islands and terrestrial ecosystems. The biosphere reserve is home to over 130 species of mammals including the Dian’s tarsier. The region profits from the production of cocoa, coffee, fisheries, and ecotourism.
Karimunjawa-Jepara-Muria Biosphere Reserve (Indonesia): The Karimunjawa-Jepara-Muria Biosphere Reserve in Central Java is located in the mountainous region surrounding Mount Muria. The biosphere reserve is critical in preserving the biodiversity of the central region of the island of Java. Its three protected regions encompass more than 120,000 hectares including the Karimunjawa National Park, the Mount Muria Protected Forest, and the Mount Celering Nature Reserve. The reserve features a large variety of ecosystems including small islands, marine ecosystems, lowland and mountain tropical rainforests. Most of the biosphere reserve’s inhabitants live off traditional agriculture and fishing.
Merapi Merbabu Menoreh Biosphere Reserve (Indonesia): Located in central Java, in the Indo-Malayan region. The biosphere reserve spans 254,877 hectares. It is home to the Gunung Merapi National Park, Gunung Merbabu National Park and Sermo Wildlife Reserve, each site is critical in protecting various endemic Javanese species. The Java-Bali montane forest type at the site protects the biodiversity of the Indo/Malayan region as well as a limestone formation in the Menorah area.
Almaty Biosphere Reserve (Kazakhstan): The Almaty Biosphere Reserve is located on the Zailiysky Alatau ridge, on the watershed of several river basins featuring a number of lakes. Its wild fruit forests, predominantly consisting of wild apple trees, are home to diverse fauna, including 177 bird and almost 1,000 insect species. Well over 1,000 species of plants are protected in the biosphere reserve, and 2,300 animal species have been documented. It is a popular recreational area for city dwellers from the entire region. The biosphere reserve aims to develop eco-tourism, as well as sustainable animal husbandry and agriculture, which are major sources of income in the area.
West Altai Biosphere Reserve (Kazakhstan): Located on the border of the Russian Federation, in the North-Eastern part of East Kazakhstan, the mountain-taiga forests of West Altai Biosphere Reserve are largely untouched. They include the only black taiga forests in the country, as well as Siberian and dark taiga. Wolverines and musk deer live in the biosphere reserve, which is on the seasonal migration routes of wild ungulates, such as elk, deer and wild boar. The local fauna includes more than 160 bird species, 129 of which nest in the region (black stork, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, gray crane, eagle owl). Mining and agriculture, mostly for wheat, potato, sunflower and beet crops, are the main economic activities in the biosphere reserve.
Minett Biosphere Reserve (Luxembourg): Located in densely populated southern Luxembourg and bordering France, the biosphere reservehas the country’s second largest concentration of inhabitants and employment after the capital. It is home to more than 171,000 inhabitants, nearly one third of Luxembourg’s population concentrated over 200km², approximately 10% of the country. The region has a long tradition of hospitality towards immigrants resulting in a multicultural, dynamic and cosmopolitan population of over 150 nationalities. Formerly a mining area, most of the mines in the biosphere reserve have been reclaimed by vegetation, creating a great variety of natural habitats.
Addu Atoll Biosphere Reserve (Maldives): Addu, the southernmost atoll of the Maldives, comprises a total of 30 islands, 17 of which are uninhabited. It is one of the most diverse coral reef ecosystems in the Maldives including lagoons, reef passes, seagrass beds, sandbanks, coral islands, lush tropical vegetation, mangroves, wetlands, brackish lakes locally known as kilhis, agricultural land and residential areas. About 14,352ha of its total area of 17,174.40ha are marine areas, with an outstanding biodiversity that includes over 1,200 fish species. It is home to internationally threatened species and an important habitat for migratory birds. Most of the inhabitants make a living from fisheries and tourism related to underwater sports. The Maldivian atolls are severely threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change and by an increasing number of invasive alien species, both of which require action at the regional and global levels. The establishment of Addu Atoll Biosphere Reserve reinforces ongoing efforts to manage coral reef ecosystem services through sustainable development.
Fuvahmulah Biosphere Reserve (Maldives): A large island in the southern part of the Maldives, the biosphere reserve encompasses an entire atoll ecosystem, including the most diverse of coral ecosystems in the country with healthy habitats and unique coral sand beach formations. The surface of the island is in the form of a very shallow bowl with two mangroves and wetlands (locally known as Kilhi) at medial low points, forming two small linked sub-catchments. These Kilhis have influenced the lifestyle of the island’s inhabitants, who make a living mostly with tourism, small-scale fishing and agriculture.
Toson-Khulstai Biosphere Reserve (Mongolia): The Toson-Khulstai Biosphere Reserve is located in North-Eastern Mongolia between forest steppe and grassland ecosystem and is part of the largest intact temperate grassland on Earth. The biosphere reserve aims to protect the low mountains, rolling hills, and dry steppe ecosystems that are the habitat of the Mongolian gazelle and other wildlife, such as the globally endangered White-naped crane, the upland buzzard, the steppe eagle and the Siberian marmot. An agreement was reached with the nomadic herder communities who live seasonally in the area to ensure sustainable grazing practices. The livelihood of about 200 herder families largely depends on ecosystem services provided by the biosphere reserve including seasonal grazing and freshwater for livestock and people.
Hadejia Nguru Bade Biosphere Reserve (Nigeria): Located in the Sudan-Sahelian zone of Nigeria, in the Lake Chad basin, the biosphere reserve encompasses the first Ramsar site designated in Nigeria, the Bade Ngruru Wetland, as well as the Baturiya Game Reserve, a former community forest. The seasonal rising of the Hadejia and Jama’re rivers flood lands and uplands in the states of Bauchi and Kano, as well as the Jos Plateau, home to many resident and migratory bird species. The region is recognised globally as internationally important for bird conservation. The Kanuri, Bade, Hausa and Fulani makes up the biosphere reserve’s culturally and socially diverse population of close to 932,000 inhabitants. The creation of the biosphere reserves is part of a regional effort to update and improve knowledge of Lake Chad’s natural resources and build capacity for the sustainable management of these resources.
Oban Biosphere Reserve (Nigeria): Oban Biosphere Reserve is located in the Cross River State in the south-eastern corner of Nigeria. The 557,682ha biosphere reserve encompasses the Oban Forest Reserve, the Cross River National Park, and the Obudu Plateau. It harbours a significant portion of Nigeria’s remaining tropical rainforest, with 1,568 plant species of which more than 80% are endemic, and it is crucial in protecting megafauna such as the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla, the Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee, the forest elephant and many other rare and endangered species. Approximately 28,000 inhabitants live within the biosphere reserve. They belong to three main tribal groups: Ejagham, Durop, and Dusanga-iyong iyong. The Ekuri Initiative, created with the Ekuri people, an indigenous forest-dependent community, aims to protect their identity, culture and knowledge of the local ecosystems. It covers conservation and sustainable forest management to address loss of biodiversity, the migration of species and community development.
Okangwo Biosphere Reserve (Nigeria): In the Coastal Evergreen Rainforest along the Gulf of Biafra, Okangwo is in the north of the Cross River National Park on the edge of the Cameroon Highlands between the Cross and Sanga Rivers. This combination of river systems provides the basis for a unique wealth of biodiversity. Faunal species in the area include the African elephant, African buffalo and bushpig, as well as the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla The forest is a source of timber and non-timber forest products such as bush mango, rattan canes, medicinal plants and bushmeat, among others, which, alongside tourism, provide a livelihood for its populations.
Bosques de Neblina – Selva Central Biosphere Reserve (Peru): Located in the Amazon basin, in a transition area between the Andes and the Amazon forest, the site shares its northern border with the Oxapampa-Ashaninka-Yanesha Biosphere Reserve. Even though less than 10% of the region’s biodiversity have been catalogued, Bosques de Neblina hosts species of high bio-ecological value, with strong levels of endemism. Emblematic species include the vulnerable Andean bear and the Andean cock-of-the-rock. The Pampa Hermosa Natural Sanctuary, one of the last remaining tropical montane forests in the region, and the Pui Pui woods, are of paramount importance for the protection of river headwaters, which provide safe freshwater to the population. It is home diverse population groups including Quechuans and Ashaninkas. Agriculture, forestry and fishing are important sources of income.
Island of Porto Santo Biosphere Reserve (Portugal): The biosphere reserve, located in the archipelago of Madeira, combines terrestrial and marine areas. The terrestrial areas host more than 1,600 taxa with a high level of endemism, including 15 types of flora that are exclusive to Porto Santo. The biosphere reserve is home to several species of marine reptiles and mammals, notably the rarest seal in the world, the Mediterranean monk seal, and the loggerhead sea turtle. Its marine biodiversity is yet to be fully catalogued. Tourism is the island’s most important economic sector, with its population increasing fourfold during the high season.
Kologrivsky Forest Biosphere Reserve (Russian Federation): The landscape of Kologrivsky Forest in the north-eastern part of the Russian Plain features landscapes influenced by human activities as well as undisturbed southern taiga ecosystems, including pine forests, spruce forests, small-leaved forests, marshes, meadows and water reservoirs. There are over 1,000 species of flora and fauna registered in the biosphere reserve, including four floral and 13 fauna species inscribed on the Red List of Threatened Species of the Russian Federation. That list also includes some birds nesting in the reserve, among them the willow ptarmigan, the osprey, the eagle owl and the azure tit. Eco-tourism is a strategic activity for the sustainable development of the area which experiences seasonal population increases approaching 50% and high unemployment.
Gishwati Mukura Landscape Biosphere Reserve (Rwanda): The Gishwati Mukura Landscape Biosphere Reserve is located in the Albertine Rift in Rwanda. Globally recognized biodiversity hotspot, the area hosts a variety of endemic and endangered species, such as the Eastern chimpanzee and the Golden monkey. The biosphere reserve has a population of approximately 337,782 living in rural areas. Their main economic activities include agriculture through sustainable land management, silvopasture, agroforestry and tourism.
North-East Tobago Biosphere Reserve (Trinidad and Tobago): The North-East Tobago Biosphere Reserve presents a rare largely intact Caribbean Island Ridge-to-Ocean ecosystem that includes the world’s oldest tropical rainforest reserve, the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve, established in 1776. It encompasses 83,488ha, with a marine area of 68,384ha that is home to coral reefs and mangroves. Overall, 1,774 species have been recorded in its 19 habitat types and it is home to globally unique and endangered plants and animals including 83 IUCN Red List species and 41 endemic species. By joining the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the community aims to revitalize cultural and spiritual bonds between people and nature and boost the preservation of this fragile and remarkable human and natural landscape.
Extension, re-zoning or renaming of existing biosphere reserves:
Dja Biosphere Reserve (Cameroon): First designated in 1981, Dja Biosphere Reserve in southern Cameroon was resubmitted as a new updated proposal and its surface area has been increased from 800,000 to 1,328,097 ha, with a transition area of 740,000 ha, where socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable economic and human activities are managed with local communities, including the Baka and Bantou (Badjoué, Bulu, Fang, Kaka and Nzimé) communities. The biosphere reserve encompasses part of the Congo Basin Forest and a Natural World Heritage site, the Dja Faunal Reserve. It is home to one of the most important colonies of Grey-necked Rockfowl in the world, as well as the critically endangered western lowland gorilla, chimpanzees, the giant pangolin, panthers, elephants and hornbills.
Falasorma-Dui Sevi (France), formerly known as Vallée du Fango Biosphere Reserve
The extended biosphere reserve, located in Corsica, covers 86,429 hectares of land and sea. It stretches from the highest mountains of the island (Punta Minuta, 2,556 m) to a maximum depth of 1,300 m below sea level in the Gulf of Porto. It encompasses diverse habitats known for their wildlife and flora including 20 animal species and nearly 150 endemic Corsican or Corsican-Sardinian endemic plant species. Of note are the Corsican Sitelle, the Corsican Mouflon, the Larcio Pine, the Armeria de Soleirol, the Corsican Erodium, the Corsican Salamander, red corals and Posidonia. The 3,500 permanent inhabitants of the biosphere reserve rely on agriculture, fishing, handicrafts, and tourism between April and October, for their livelihood. Its new name reflects the area’s Corsican identity using the local name of the Vallée du Fango while Dui Sevi (Deux-Sevi) designates the communes in the transition area.
Mount Kenya – Lewa (Kenya), formerly known as Mount Kenya Biosphere Reserve
The revised zones of the biosphere reserve cover 568,553 ha, comprising Mount Kenya, an extinct volcano with one of the largest standing indigenous closed canopy forests in the country, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Ngare Ndare Forest landscape. The landscape which straddles the Equator with the forest at the foot of the mountain provides a unique ecosystem for species such as the Bongo, black as well as white rhinoceroses, the African elephant and the uncommon Kenyan black fronted duiker (Cephalopus nigrifrons hooki). The remarkable multi-stakeholder management of the site has supported collaborative research and monitoring projects which notably include tree planting for the rehabilitation of degraded forest areas and ecotourism.
Black River Gorges-Bel Ombre Biosphere Reserve (Republic of Mauritius), formerly known as Macchabee/Bel Ombre Biosphere Reserve: Characterised by a high level of endemism and identified by Birdlife International as an important bird area, the biosphere reserve’s surface area will increase from 3,594ha to 8,582.21ha. The extension allows for the establishment of buffer and transition zones around the core area, which comply with updated biosphere reserve functions in line with the Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere reserves. Local communities in the biosphere reserve are taking part in a range of conservation initiatives including coral reef plantation, beach and lagoon clean ups, environmental education activities, and long-term research projects to conserve threatened flora and fauna. The biosphere reserve’s new name honours the last remnants of the native forest found mainly in Black River Gorges National Park.
Vindelälven-Juhttátahkka Biosphere Reserve (Sweden), formerly known as Vindelälven-Juhtatdahka Biosphere Reserve: Renamed by the MAB-ICC at the request of Sweden, the biosphere reserve inscribed in 2019 as Vindelälven-Juhtatdahka straddles the Arctic Circle and includes large parts of the Vindelfjällen nature reserve, one of the largest in Europe. The area is home to two distinct cultural communities, Swedish and Sami and their rich cultural traditions.