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UNESCO Designates 22 New Biosphere Reserves
JEJU, South Korea, May 27, 2009 (ENS) - Whole islands, European mountain areas, ancient ruins and tiger reserves are among 22 new sites in 17 countries added to the UNESCO's World Network of Biosphere Reserves Tuesday at the ongoing meeting of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme.

The new sites include the first UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in two countries - Malaysia and Syria and a sacred site in North Korea. There are now 553 UNESCO Biosphere Reserve sites in 107 countries.

Biosphere Reserves are areas designated under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme to serve as places to test different approaches to integrated management of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine resources and biodiversity.

Biosphere Reserves are sites for experimenting with and learning about sustainable development, particularly during the on-going UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development - 2005 through 2014.

Launched in the early 1970s, the Man and the Biosphere Programme proposes an interdisciplinary research agenda and capacity building aimed at improving people’s relationship with their environment.

The program targets the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and the reduction of this loss. It uses its World Network of Biosphere Reserves as vehicles for knowledge sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making with local communities.

The new UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are:

Great Sandy, Australia, a terrestrial, coastal, marine area, features the largest rainforest stand on sand in the world. It includes the natural site of Fraser Island with its freshwater dune lakes, which was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1992. The local community Burnett Mary Regional Group for Natural Resources Management has promoted the designation of the area as a biosphere reserve fostering ecotourism and niche organic agriculture.

The Taubental area of Germany's Bliesgau Biosphere Reserve (Photo © Detlef Reinhard courtesy UNESCO)

Bliesgau, Germany, is applying the concept of the “in-between-city” to link two contrasting landscapes, densely populated and urbanized in the north in the town of St. Ingbert, and sparsely populated and rural in the south. It supports extensive global climate change research on ecological changes in its urban, suburban and rural areas. The range of activities demonstrating sustainable development, including educational and environmental awareness initiatives, is a source of inspiration for the region. A special Biosphere Association has been established for the site.

Swabian Alb, Germany, is located in the Jura mountains, with beech forests and orchards, pine and spruce forests, grasslands and meadows. Close to Stuttgart, it covers a total area of 84,500 hectares and has a population of 150,000. Programs for sustainable development include agriculture and forestry, green businesses and ecotourism, the promotion of local products and cottage industries. There are plans to bolster renewable energy for transportation. The biosphere reserve includes the Münsingen Military Training Area in the Hilly Alb, closed to the public for 110 years, until 2005. It retains the characteristics of 18th and 19th century cultural landscapes and is one of the largest noise-free areas in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

Nokrek, India, is a biological hotspot in the state of Meghalaya featuring undisturbed natural ecosystems and landscapes. Inhabited by elephants, tigers, leopards and hollock gibbons, the area is noted for its wild varieties of citrus fruits that provide a genepool for commercially produced citrus.

Pachmarhi, India, in Madhya Pradesh state includes tiger and other wildlife reserves. At the interface of tropical, moist and dry forests as well as sub-tropical hill forests, the area is considered a botanist’s paradise. Local tribes contribute to conservation of the forest while using its resources for nutrition, agriculture and income generation.

Similipal, India, is a tiger reserve in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, which used to be the hunting ground of the Maharajah of Mayurbhanj. This tropical environment is inhabited by elephants, panthers, deer and numerous plant species, making it a living laboratory for environmental scientists. The tribal inhabitants depend on agriculture, hunting and collection of forest products for their livelihoods but need additional sources of income.

Giam Siak Kecil – Bukit Batu, Indonesia, is a peatland area on the island of Sumatra featuring sustainable timber production and two wildlife reserves, inhabited by Sumatran tigers, elephants, tapirs, and sun bears. Researchers are monitoring flagship species and conducting an in-depth study on peatland ecology. Sustainable economic development is possible using plants and animals to increase inhabitants’ economic wellbeing. The site may be used as a carbon dioxide sink in the context of carbon trade mechanisms.

Lebanon's Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reserve (Photo © Association for the protection of Jabal Moussa courtesy UNESCO)

Jabal Moussa, Lebanon, on the western slopes of the northern Mount Lebanon Chain faces the Mediterranean Sea to the west. The 6,500 hectare wild, unspoiled area takes in the historic Adonis Valley with agricultural terraces and trails dating back to Roman times. The valley features rivers and streams, rangeland with landraces, mixed forests with oak, pine and olive groves and many economically important plant species, as well as undisturbed wildlife habitats that are home to wolves, hyenas, hyraxes, birds and reptiles. It is protected by municipal laws that aim to conserve its ecological integrity, natural systems and species.

Tasik Chini, Malaysia, is the country’s first UNESCO designated biosphere reserve. In the southern Malaysian peninsula, the site is the water catchment area of Tasik Chini Lake located in the center of the reserve. The lake is a sanctuary for endemic freshwater species that are subject to intensive research and monitoring by various research institutions. Handicraft and textile production around the lake and its tributary rivers has economic development potential.

Lagunas de Montebello, Mexico, located in the area that connects the Highland region of Chiapas and the Gulf of Mexico coastal plain, is in a hydrological region of high biological diversity and is is critically important for water harvesting and climate regulation. The karst landscape and more than 50 lagoons give the area its scenic beauty. Local communities are involved in the management of the site's ecological resources. They practice a range of agricultural activities increasingly focusing on practices compatible with conservation such as organic coffee production. Reforestation and tourism also support sustainable development of the area.

Flores Island, Portugal, part of the western group of the Azores archipelago, is the surface part of a seamount close to the Mid Atlantic Rift. Created by volcanic activity which started less than 10 million years ago, the biosphere reserve includes the whole emerged area of Flores Island and some adjacent marine areas with landscape, geological, environmental and cultural assets. High cliffs dominate most of the coastline, which is dotted with islets. The area supports traditional fishing and attracts visitors interested in diving, whale and dolphin watching and shore walking.

Geres/Xures is a transboundary biosphere reserve shared by Portugal and Spain based on the biogeographical continuity of the Sierras Galaico-Miñotas mountains and valleys. Subject to both oceanic and Mediterranean climatic influences, the site is rich in forest and peatland ecosystems with a high level of endemic species. Local communities benefit from sustainable development centers in the biosphere reserve, which is governed by a joint Spanish-Portuguese management plan.

Mount Myohyang Biosphere Reserve in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Photo © MMBR courtesy UNESCO)

Mount Myohyang, North Korea, is a sacred site. According to legend, it was the home of King Tangun, forefather of the Korean people. Rising nearly 2,000 metres above sea level, spectacular rocks and cliffs provide a habitat for 30 plant species unique to the site, 16 plant species that are globally threatened, a wide variety of medicinal herbs and 12 animal species that are endangered.

Shinan Dadohae, South Korea, is an island archipelago in the southwest of the country. It includes terrestrial and marine areas as well as large tidal flats, inhabited by a great diversity of species, which serve as resting places for rare migratory birds. Traditional forms of fishing and salt production are still practiced here.

Altaisky, Russia, is located in the northeastern and eastern Altai along major mountain ranges. Rich in biodiversity and cultural heritage, the site covers 3,532,234 hectares and is home to 15,000 people. The core area is a part of the Golden Mountains of the natural UNESCO World Heritage site of Altai. Involved in the development of green tourism, this site cooperates with the Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Biosphere Reserve and the Khakassky national reserve. Established as a reserve in 1932, it is among the areas of the world least affected by human intervention. Indigenous peoples living in the biosphere’s transitional area include Tubalars, Chelkants, Telengits, Kumandins and Teleuts.

Vhembe, South Africa, includes the northern part of the Kruger National Park, the Makuleke Wetlands Ramsar Site, the Soutpansberg and Blouberg biodiversity hot spots, as well as the Mapungube Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site and the Makgabeng Plateau with more than 1000 rock art sites. Human activities in the site are agricultural, including production of subtropical fruits and vegetables, cattle and game farming and hunting. The local Venda, Shangaan and Sepedi people practice age-old indigenous skills ranging from wood carving and drum making to traditional healing.

Fuerteventura, Spain, is the second biggest island of the Canaries archipelago, close to the West African Coast, featuring a wide range of ecosystems from desert areas to coastal and marine habitats. Dolphins and cachalots swim in island waters and marine turtles reproduce on its beaches. The local population is focusing on development of sustainable ecotourism, and the island is considered one of the world’s major geopalentological observatories. The island is increasing its wind and solar energy production, and represents itself as one of the models for the implementation of the European Union's Directive on Renewable Energy.

Lajat Biosphere Reserve, Syria, is located in the southernmost point of Syria on the border with Jordan and is the first nomination submitted by Syria. Rich biological diversity and some of the most striking landscapes in the region are featured together with the Lajat archaeological ruins. Ecologically sustainable activities include existing rotation grazing schemes, landscape restoration and excavations.

Alyai local community, Altaisky Biosphere Reserve, Russia (Photo © I. Kalmykov courtesy UNESCO)

Desnianskyi, Ukraine, is situated in Eastern Polesie, along the Desna River. With a total surface of 58,000 hectares, the site takes in forests, rivers, lakes, flood plains and bogs. Scientists monitor rare species such as bears and lynx, while local residents focus on agriculture, forestry, fishery and sport hunting. Sustainable development activities include organic agriculture and green tourism on the Desna River as well the Desnianski Zori ecological camp for schoolchildren. Transfrontier sustainable tourism is being developed with Russia including plans to establish a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve between the two countries.

Delta del Orinoco, Venezuela, is characterized by great biological diversity in both land and aquatic ecosystems. The site supports more than 2,000 plant species and a wide array of land and water animals. Biodiversity is complemented by the cultural wealth of the Warao people, known as the boat people. Promoting productive activities within the site creates opportunities to strengthen the Warao communities, secure their settlements and improve their living conditions.

Cu Lao Cham – Hoi An, Vietnam, is a coastal, island and marine site in the central part of the country known for its marine species - corals, molluscs, crustaceans and seaweed. The biosphere reserve contains Hoi An, a UNESCO cultural World Heritage Site, which is an ancient trading port showing the fusion of Vietnamese and European cultures. Linking cultural assets and natural values in terms of biodiversity, Cu Lao Cham – Hoi An is well positioned for promoting sustainable ecotourism.

Mui Ca Mau, Vietnam, on the southern tip of the country, demonstrates ecological succession systems on new alluvial lands. The boundary between mangrove and melaleuca forests, it is a reproduction and breeding area for marine species. Plans for the sustainable development focus on ecotourism and cultural tourism. Training is planned to improve agriculture and fishing.

The International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme also approved extensions to four existing biosphere reserves - Mata Atlantica in Brazil; North Karelia in Finland; and Dyfi - now renamed to Biosffer Dyfi Biosphere - in the United Kingdom, and a 14-fold extention to the La Campana-Penuelas reserve in Chile.

Click here for a complete list of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.

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