UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme added 18 new sites in 12 countries to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which now numbers 701 biosphere reserves in 124 countries around the globe.
The International Co-ordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC) meeting in Paris from 17 to 21 June approved these additions along with the extension of eight existing biosphere reserves, which in most cases also led to a change in their official names.
The Kingdom of Eswatini joins the MAB Network this year with the inscription of its first site, Lubombo Biosphere Reserve. The inscription of Nordhordland marks Norway’s renewed commitment to the biosphere programme, 22 years after the withdrawal its only other site, Northeast Salvbard Biosphere Reserve.
UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay said, “There is a pressing need to take action for biodiversity, for our shared environmental heritage. After diagnosing the issue at stake, highlighted by the recent report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the vitality of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves gives us cause for hope. Each UNESCO biosphere reserve is an open sky laboratory for sustainable development, for concrete and lasting solutions, for innovation and good practices. They seal a new alliance between the world of science and youth, between humans and the environment.”
UNESCO Biosphere reserves seek to reconcile human activity with the conservation of biodiversity through the sustainable use of natural resources. This reflects UNESCO’s key objective of fostering innovative sustainable development practices and combatting the loss of biodiversity by accompanying communities and Member States in their work to understand, appreciate and safeguard the living environment of our planet.
New reserves are designated every year by the International Co-ordinating Council for the programme, a body with a rotating elected membership of 34 UNESCO Member States. Established by UNESCO in the early 1970s, the Man and the Biosphere Programme is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to improve relations between people and their natural environment. It is a pioneering initiative at the origin of the very notion of sustainable development.
Sites designated this year:
Lower Mura Valley Biosphere Reserve (Austria) covers 13,180 hectares along the border with Slovenia and is part of the European Green belt. Surrounded by agricultural land, the Biosphere Reserve is Austria’s second largest alluvial forest on a major river. It is characterized by a high biodiversity of water-bound flora and fauna, including 50 fish species, of which 14 are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. The creation of the Biosphere Reserve completes the commitment by Austria, along with Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia to protect the multi-river system of the transboundary Mura Drava Danube Biosphere Reserve.
Lubombo Biosphere Reserve (Eswatini). The 294,020 hectare site, in the Lubombo Mountain Range, which straddles Mozambique and South Africa, is part of the Maputoland-Phondoland-Albany Biodiversity Hotspot and consists of forest, wetland and savannah ecosystems. Local Flora species include the Lubombo Ironwoods (Androstachys jonsonii), Lubombo Cycads (Encephalartos lebomboensis), the recently discovered Barleria species (Barleria lubombensis) and the Jilobi forest. Twenty of the 88 mammals identified in the area are only to be found only in the Lumomba region. Notable among these mammals are the White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Roan Antelope (Hippotragus equines), Tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus) and the Suni (Nesotragus moschatus zuluensis), as well as threatened species such as the Leopard (Panthera pardus). The biosphere reserve is home to numerous conservation and monitoring projects, as well as commercial enterprises, industry, agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry.
Saleh-Moyo-Tambora “SAMOTA” Biosphere Reserve (Indonesia), situated between the Rinjani-Lombok and Komodo Island Biosphere Reserves, covers an area of 724,631.52 hectares, comprising five major ecosystems: small islands, a coastal area of mangrove, coastal, lowland and mountain forests, as well as savannah. The Biosphere Reserve is home to 146,000 people of diverse ethnic groups. Its core area plays an important role in conserving the region’s biodiversity while its buffer zone and transition area have agricultural potential for the production of fruit and vegetable, as well as rice, coffee and cacao, and animal husbandry. The beauty of the Tambora Mountains has tourist potential, while the Sumba Island communities attract cultural tourism.
Togean Tojo Una-Una Biosphere Reserve (Indonesia), covers an area of 2,187,632 hectares on an archipelago of 483 islands in Central Sulawesi, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, featuring the highest coral diversity in the world, as well as mangrove forests and small island ecosystems. The Togean Islands, part of the Biosphere Reserve, is host to 363 plant species, including 33 species of mangrove. They also contain animal species including tarsiers (Tarsius spectrum palengensis) and Togean monkeys (Macaca togeanus), as well as Togean babirusa, cuscus, dugong, whale and dolphin. Coral reef fish are abundant, with 596 species inhabiting the Togean Islands National Park. The area is also an important spawning site for turtles and fish. It is home to 149,214 people of great cultural diversity.
Po Grande Biosphere Reserve (Italy), is named after the Po River, which meanders through the site’s mosaic of ecosystems, among them marginal wetlands and oxbow lakes, fluvial islands, riparian forests, meadows, valleys and agricultural land. It covers an area of 286,600 hectares, and its buffer zone includes small islands, settlements and a marine area. Cultural diversity is very high in the Biosphere Reserve, whose establishment is a welcome addition to two recently created Biosphere Reserves along the Po River, Po Delta (2015) and Collina Po (2016). Connecting the three as ‘Po Grande’ is expected to contribute, notably, to the conservation, development and security of integrated water management in the region.
Julian Alps Biosphere Reserve (Italy). The 71,451 hectare biosphere reserve encompasses three different biogeographic areas: Alpine, Mediterranean and Illyrian, which contributes to its high biodiversity. Its wide-ranging collage of habitats are marked by various degrees of human intervention. It features rocky environments that alternate with forests, high grassland, mowed meadows, pastures, valleys crossed by water courses, and mountains. It is home to a wealth of rare and protected flora and fauna, including bear, lynx, wildcat, chamois, steinbock, deer, marmot, golden eagle, griffon vulture, peregrine falcon. Its forests are predominantly beech (Hacquetio-Fagetum, Dentario-Fagetum, Polysticho-Fagetum) mixed to varying degrees with hornbeam and South European flowering ash (Ostryo-Fagetum) and mugo pine. The biosphere reserve constitutes an important Alpine corridor, notably for large carnivores as well as birds. The area is also a meeting place of the Latin and Slav worlds with millennia of cultural interaction testified by its multitude of dialects, settlement methods, agricultural and artistic practices.
Kobushi Biosphere Reserve (Japan). The 190,603 hectare Biosphere Reserve encompasses most of the Kanto Mountains, including the main Okuchichibu ridge of 20 peaks rising above 2,000 metres. It is a watershed and source for major rivers, notably the Ara, Tama and Fuefuki rivers and Chikuma, or Shinano, River. The Biosphere Reserve features a wealth of geological formations and rock types with fauna that includes almost 40% of Japan’s recorded butterfly species, 24 of which are endangered. Mountains along the ridges, including Mount Kimpu and Mount Mitsumine, have long been objects of worship, entailing a ban on the felling of trees. The buffer zone in Nagano Prefecture is known for the production of highland vegetables and for its prized Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) whose timber was widely exported during the Meiji era. The transition area of Yamanashi Prefecture has traditionally been a centre for the cultivation of grapes, persimmons, peaches and other delicacies collectively described as the “eight rare fruits of Koshu.”
Gangwon Eco-Peace Biosphere Reserve (Republic of Korea). The 182,815 hectare, largely mountainous, Biosphere Reserve at the watershed of the Taebaek Mountain Range in northern Gangwon Province, borders the southern limit of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to the north and reaches the east coast of the Korean Peninsula to the east. It is home to a wide range of rare and endangered flora and fauna. The buffer and transition areas inhabited by residents also serve as movement routes for rare and endangered animal species; they are thus consistent with a key value of the biosphere reserve programme – the co-existence of humanity and nature. Development plans for the Biosphere Reserve focus on eco-tourism using the ecological, cultural and social resources of the area, as well as the exploration of relics of the Korean War in the area.
Yeoncheon Imjin River Biosphere Reserve (Republic of Korea). Located in the Chugaryeong Tectonic Valley, the Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 58,412 hectares encompassing the entire county of Yeoncheon and the Imjin River basin. Its core area consists of forests and cultural heritage protection zones, with the Imjin River as its centrepiece. The transition area outside the Biosphere Reserve’s core and buffer zone, includes residential settlements and farmlands. Temperate deciduous broad-leaved forests cover 60% of Yeoncheon County. Numerous animals travel to, and inhabit, the area around the river with its many rapids, swamps and wetlands, among them water spiders, red-crowned cranes, eagles, otters and wildcats. The Imjin River, mostly untouched by humans, is home to Korean endemic fish species, such as Acheilognathus gracilis and Tanakia signifier, and mammals, including water deer, otters and leopard cats. It serves as an ecological corridor to the DMZ and bridges inland areas with the ocea