New UNESCO Biosphere Reserves Protect Forests, Water, Wildlife

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PARIS, France, June 16, 2023 (ENS) – UNESCO has approved the designation of 10 new biosphere reserves in nine countries, and one transboundary biosphere reserve that stretches across the border between two countries. With these new designations, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves now totals 748 sites in 134 countries, including 23 transboundary sites.

“UNESCO biosphere reserves are tangible proof that humanity can live in balance with nature. Since 1971, this community-led programme has successfully found a model for development where people live well and biodiversity is respected. I am pleased that this year, 11 more sites are joining this powerful network, which is more relevant and necessary than ever,” said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO.

These additions were decided by the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme – 34 UNESCO Member States. It met from June 12 to 15 at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris.

Biosphere reserves are a pillar of UNESCO’s mandate as the United Nations sciences agency. Each biosphere reserve promotes innovative local solutions to conserve biodiversity, preserve ecosystems and tackle climate change. Ideally, the designations will help improve people’s livelihoods by developing agro-ecology, renewable sources of energy, and green industries.

Biosphere reserves contribute to countries’ abilities to achieve the targets adopted last December within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. These targets include designating 30 percent of the Earth’s land surface as protected areas and restoring 30 percent of the planet’s degraded ecosystems by 2030.

The 11 newly designated biosphere reserves are:

Cameroon: Korup Rainforest Biosphere Reserve
At over 60 million years old, the Korup Rainforest is one of Africa’s oldest rainforests. Located in the Guineo-Congolian biogeographical region in southwest Cameroon, adjoining the Oban Biosphere Reserve in Nigeria, the Korup Rainforest Biosphere Reserve ranges from lowland forest to subtropical montane rainforest.

A cultural dance in a Korup Rainforest Reserve village. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)

This reserve has been designated as one of Africa’s two Pleistocene Refugia for its rich biodiversity and endemic animals and plants. The biosphere reserve shelters African primates, including the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla.

Korup Rainforest is home to a linguistically and culturally diverse population of more than 30,000. The local economy spans agriculture, forestry, tourism, recreational and service-based businesses. Some 32 villages are involved in the management of Korup Rainforest through a collaborative process designed to enhance community participation and improve local livelihoods.

Central African Republic: Protected Area Complex of Northeast Central African Republic
This biosphere reserve is located in the north-east of the country, in the transition zone between the Sahelian area to the north and the humid Equatorial area to the south. The site plays an important ecological role by connecting protected areas at the national and regional levels. Situated at the convergence of the Congo, Lake Chad and Nile Basins, the biosphere reserve possesses highly diverse groups of plant and animal species, as well as ecosystems and landscapes characterized by forest areas along rivers flanked by floodplains.

One of its core areas, Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park, is already inscribed on the World Heritage list. The biosphere reserve is home to a diverse population of 80,000, most engaged in agriculture through the cultivation of food crops such as cassava, millet, sorghum, groundnuts, corn and sesame. Other important traditional activities here are hunting and fishing, followed by small-scale livestock-raising, handicrafts, small-scale trade, artisanal diamond-mining and the gathering of non-timber forest products.

Colombia: Tribugá-Cupica-Baudó Biosphere Reserve
Located in the Chocó biogeographic region, Tribugá-Cupica-Baudó is the first biosphere reserve to be situated on the Pacific coast of Colombia, which is one of the two large biomes that influence this area. The other is the tropical rainforest of the Serranía del Baudó.

The biosphere reserve contains a variety of landscapes – cliffs, estuaries, coastlines, gulfs, inlets, bays and marine areas – and ecosystems – reefs, mangroves, tropical forest) rich in biodiversity.

It is home to a population of more than 18,000, most of whom are Indigenous Embera and Afro-Colombian peoples. The Embera speak a rare and isolated language. The main economic activities are subsistence agriculture, artisanal and traditional fishing and resource utilization, trade, nature tourism and handicrafts.

Germany: Drömling Biosphere Reserve
Drömling Biosphere Reserve is located on both sides of the former inner-German border of Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony, two German federal states. The region has evolved over the past 250 years into a cultural landscape combining the development of agriculture with the conservation of peat bogs.

A ranger points out features of Germany’s new Drömling Biosphere Reserve to visitors. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)

The biosphere reserve plans to contribute to the restoration of the ecological and socio-cultural identities of the entire region by pursuing eco-tourism, joint water and renewable energy management, and environmental education.

This German biosphere reserve includes 11 nature reserves, five landscape protection areas and one national nature monument, the Green Belt. The region is characterized by unique water-bound ecosystems with a continuous gradient, beginning with intact wetlands systems and forests and ending with intensive human influence. Around 54 percent of the biosphere reserve’s area is included in the European network of protected areas , Natura 2000, as a bird sanctuary.

Indonesia: Bantimurung Bulusaraung – Ma’Rupanne Biosphere Reserve
Located in South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia, Bantimurung Bulusaraung – Ma’Rupanne Biosphere Reserve consists of three main landscapes: Bantimurung, Bulusaraung and Maros Pangkep; the latter is the second-largest karst landscape in the world. It includes tropical mountain forest, lowland forest as well as areas devoted to different types of land use.

One of the site’s core areas, Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park, is internationally renowned for its rich biodiversity, which includes 250 species of butterfly.

The biosphere reserve has a diverse population of over 1.5 million inhabiting 672 villages. Communities such as the Makasar and Bugis people have upheld their traditional cultures for hundreds of years. Nature and cultural tourism are highly developed but agricultural activities, such as paddy farming, dryland and livestock agriculture, and fishing constitute the main livelihoods of local communities.

Kenya, Uganda: Mount Elgon Transboundary Biosphere Reserve
The designation of the Mount Elgon Transboundary Biosphere Reserve consolidates the water tower functions of the Mount Elgon Biosphere Reserve in Kenya (2003) and the Mount Elgon Biosphere Reserve in Uganda (2005), providing a range of ecosystem functions and supporting forests, wildlife and livelihoods in the area.

Red-chested sunbird in Mt. Elgon National Park (Photo courtesy Ultimate Wild Safaris)

Inhabited by more than 300 bird species, the site has an exceptional diversity of ecosystems as well as plant and animal species distributed across four distinct ecological zones characterized by different vegetation types: mixed montane forest, bamboo and low canopy forest, sub-alpine montane heath, and alpine moorland varying with altitude.

The transboundary biosphere reserve has a population of nearly 1,150,000 evenly split between Kenya and Uganda. The area is inhabited by a diverse population of Sabaot, Luhya, Teso, Bagisu as well as other indigenous peoples and local communities who depend predominately on agriculture for both their livelihood and their subsistence.

Communities rely on gathering forest products such as firewood, fodder, medicinal plants, vegetables, bamboo shoots, stakes, mushrooms, thatching grass and salt for their cattle. Several community conservation initiatives and programs have been implemented as a way of securing community support for conserving the ecosystem.

Mongolia: Onon-Balj Biosphere Reserve
Onon-Balj Biosphere Reserve is situated at the southern edge of the Siberian and boreal coniferous forest, which encompasses the Daurian steppe and the Onon and Balj River basin.

Major ecosystem types here include forest, grassland and freshwater, characterized by the vertical landscapes that transition from the Khentii mountain range to taiga/boreal coniferous forest, then to steppe.

Mongolia’s Onon River supplies water to many wetlands sheltering water birds. (Photo by B. Aldarmaa courtesy UNESCO)

The biosphere reserve is not only a hotspot for wetlands and water birds, it also abounds in culturally important areas, including historical sites related to Chinggis Khan (c. 1162–1227) who founded the Mongol Empire.

Part of the biosphere reserve is managed as traditional common land and used for livestock herding by local communities, which also make use of the area for haymaking, vegetable-growing and the collection of non-timber forest products for household use.

The biosphere reserve attracts a lot of cultural tourism, while environmentally friendly and community-based ecotourism is also a growing industry.

Pakistan: Chitral Bashkar Garmchashma Biosphere Reserve
This biosphere reserve is situated in Chitral District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which borders Afghanistan to the north and west. The Chitral area has spectacular landscapes with 543 glaciers and 31 mountain ranges reaching altitudes of 7,000 meters and more above sea level, including three peaks in Tirich Mir.

The site sustains the populations of a wide range of near-threatened or vulnerable species, including the Kashmir Markhor (Capra falconeri cashmiriensis) and Siberian Ibex (Capra sibirica), two wild species of goat, the Ladakh Urial (Ovis vignei vignei), a wild species of sheep, and the Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia).

Some 210,000 people inhabit the biosphere reserve; they practice the unique Chitral culture developed over millennia across more than a dozen distinct peoples and many languages, including endangered Indo-Aryan languages such as Kalasha and Kalashamum. The natural beauty and cultural diversity of the biosphere reserve make it a popular and growing destination for ecotourism.

Pakistan: Gallies Biosphere Reserve
Gallies Biosphere Reserve is located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan in the moist-temperate Western Himalayan Ecoregion, which is globally recognized as being of international significance for biodiversity conservation owing to an abundance of endangered or threatened species such as the Common Leopard (Panthera pardus).

The site comprises highly diversified ecosystems, including sub-alpine meadows and conifer forests, moist temperate forests and subtropical pine forests.

The biosphere reserve is home to a population of 70,000. Due to the region’s rich cultural heritage and unique natural environment, tourism plays a vital socio-economic role.

Local authorities have developed a variety of infrastructure for tourists, including walking treks, chairlifts, horse-riding and camping facilities, as well as tourist information centers which cater to 2.5 million visitors per year.

Peru: Bicentenario-Ayacucho Biosphere Reserve
Located in south-central Peru in the Central Andes, the Bicentenario-Ayacucho Biosphere Reserve encompasses diverse mountain ecosystems that rise from between 1,850 m and 4,450 m above sea level. These ecosystems include seasonally dry forests, high Andean wetlands, relict forests and Andean scrubland.

Puya raimondii Peru
Puya raimondii at Huascaran National Park, Peru, December 19, 2015 (Photo by Frank Plamann)

The biosphere reserve encompasses the natural protected areas of the Historical Sanctuary of the Pampa de Ayacucho and the Regional Conservation Area of the largest population of the ‘titankas’ forest (Puya raimondii) in the world. Sometimes referred to as the Queen of the Andes, this elongated flowering plant can grow to up to 15 meters in height.

The area is also noted for its cultural diversity in terms of historical, religious, and social values, including local and indigenous knowledge relating to the management of natural resources. The biosphere reserve has a total population of over 300,000, with the majority living in urban areas, including in the city of Ayacucho located in the transition area. More than half of the population speaks Quecha as their mother tongue. Economic activity includes agriculture, livestock, fish farming, tourism and Andean subsistence herding, as well as service activities.

Tanzania: Rufiji-Mafia-Kibiti-Kilwa Biosphere Reserve (Rumaki)
The Rumaki Biosphere Reserve is administratively located in the regions of Lindi in the Kwila District, and Pwani in the Rufiji, Mafia and Kibiti districts of Tanzania. The area is predominately a complex coastal–marine ecosystem that includes the first marine protected area in Tanzania, Mafia Island Marine Park (1994). It comprises an outstanding mosaic of tropical marine habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves and intertidal areas that support populations of turtles, migrating birds, dolphins and whale sharks.

The Rumaki seascape is recognized as being the most biologically productive and diverse marine area in Tanzania and East Africa as a whole. The biosphere reserve contains two cultural World Heritage sites which, along with Mafia Island, are the best-known tourist destinations in the biosphere reserve. Alongside tourism, small-scale and semi-industrial fisheries are among the main livelihoods for the biosphere reserve’s population of more than 229,000.

Featured image: Caving in the new Bantimurung Bulusaraung – Ma’Rupanne Biosphere Reserve, Indonesia (Photo courtesy UNESCO)

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