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UNESCO Protects 19 New Biosphere Reserves

PARIS, France, November 2, 2004 (ENS) - India's Valley of the Flowers National Park, and the headwaters of Canada's St. Lawrence River - the Himalayan region that holds the world’s tallest mountain, and a string of Vietnamese islands where the threatened golden-headed langurs live - all are newly protected as additions to UNESCO's World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

Nineteen new sites in 13 countries were added to the network last week by the International Co-ordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme meeting at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.


Valley of the Flowers in northern India is part of one of the 19 new UNESCO biosphere reserves. (Photo courtesy Tourist Places in India)
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves now covers 459 sites in 97 countries. Biosphere reserves are places recognized by the Man and the Biosphere Programme where local communities are actively involved in governance and management, research, education, training and monitoring in the interests of both sustainable use and biodiversity conservation.

They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located.

Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil three basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing - to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation; to foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable; and to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.

At its meetings, the Council elects a chairman and five vice-chairmen to form the MAB Bureau. This Bureau meets between Council sessions to decide on nominations for biosphere reserve designations, and to review reports from expert working groups and ad hoc committees established by the Council.

For 2004-2005 the MAB Bureau Chairman is Gonzalo Halffter Salas of Mexico, an animal ecologist in Veracruz.


Gonzalo Halffter Salas of Mexico chairs the MAB Bureau. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
At last week's meeting the Bureau examined the case of the Dunaisky Biosphere Reserve in Ukraine, part of the Danube Delta Transboundary Biosphere Reserve with Romania. Ukranian construction of a navigation canal across the reserve to the Black Sea has been the cause of controversy and has been criticized by governments, NGOs, and the normally reticent Ramsar Secretariat, which is the caretaker of wetlands of international importance.

The Council expressed concern over the way in which the zones have been changed without local, national or international consultations, and encouraged the Ukrainian authorities to increase bilateral discussions with Romania, its partner in the transboundary biosphere reserve.

The MAB Bureau is to make a decision on this issue after November 20, when Ukraine will have submitted its official final zoning for the Biosphere Reserve.

Also, last week UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and Italian officials signed the first cooperation agreement between UNESCO and one of its member states for emergency heritage operations.

The partnership established between UNESCO and Italy will provide expertise in damage and needs assessment and in the drawing up of action plans. It will rely on an informal group of experts, named by the Italian government with UNESCO’s approval, to respond to specific emergencies.

For example, a project to stabilize the fifth minaret of Herat in Afghanistan, drawn up by Giorgio Macchi, was successfully completed in October 2003. The minaret would have collapsed within weeks were it not for the rapid intervention of UNESCO and Italy. Macchi is also a scientific advisor for a similar project to preserve Afghanistan's minaret of Jam and is a member of the scientific committee safeguarding Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa.


The fifth minaret, on the left, was in danger of falling. The Soviets used it for target practice in the 1980s. Nine minarets stood at the turn of the 20th century. Three collapsed in earthquakes. A fourth was toppled during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy Radio Free Europe)
"Unfortunately we live in a world that is not safe from destruction caused by nature or mankind,” said Matsuura, emphasizing that “UNESCO’s mission is to prevent destruction, and also to provide reconstruction assistance and, increasingly, to intervene in emergencies.”

“The shared experience of UNESCO and Italy in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and in North Africa is the basis upon which the new agreement was built," said Italian Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani, who signed the pact. It has showed us that, the better we prepare, the better we are able to join forces and respond to the expectations of countries affected by conflict or natural catastrophe."

The new Man and the Biosphere Reserves include two sites in Algeria, two sites in China, three sites in Russia, and two sites in Vietnam. In total, there are 19 new sites and one expanded site.

  • Taza Biosphere Reserve (Algeria), characterized by spectacular cliffs, beaches, mountains and valleys. It is home to a threatened species of monkey. Tremendous tourism opportunities abound, and are part of the overall strategy to improve the local economy in harmony with the natural environment.

  • Gouraya Biosphere Reserve (Algeria) includes picturesque coastal and inland landscapes and a diversity of ecosystems. It is an ideal destination for ecotourism destination, and agricultural development for local communities is also envisioned.

  • Pribuzhskoye-Polesie Biosphere Reserve (Belarus) lies in the vast wetland transborder region of Polesie, encompassing diverse natural and cultural communities. It features pine forests, bogs, meadows and extremely rare floodplain forests. It complements the adjacent West Polesie Biosphere Reserve in Poland and the Shatsky Biosphere Reserve in Ukraine. The two may come to form the basis of a trilateral transboundary biosphere reserve for the Polesie region in the future.

  • Georgian Bay Littoral Biosphere Reserve (Canada), which encompasses the eastern part of Lake Huron, includes the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River and has one of the largest fresh water archipelagos in the world. The result of a collaboration between native communities, local inhabitants, a consortium, which includes, among other, local business interests and regional and local authorities, it represents a common vision of sustainable development and environmental and cultural conservation.

  • Foping Biosphere Reserve (China), one of the three major habitats of the giant panda in the country, also abounds with important medicinal plant species, and has significant potential for ecotourism and scientific research.


    In Tibetan the world's tallest mountain is called Qomolangma "mother of the universe." It was named Everest by British surveyor Sir Andrew Waugh, in honor of his predecessor Sir George Everest, who was surveyor-general of India from 1830 to 1843. (Photo courtesy Mountains)
  • Qomolangma Biosphere Reserve (China), covers the region of the Himalayas that includes the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, or in Tibetan, Qomolangma. This area features extremely rare alpine ecosystems and the rich history and culture of Tibet.

  • Wadden Sea of Schleswig Holstein Biosphere Reserve (Germany), has been approved for an extension. Established as a Biosphere Reserve in 1990 and comprising a national park and Ramsar International Wetland of Importance, it is now expanded to meet the 1995 biosphere reserve criteria developed in Seville. This extension, spurred at the initiative of the communities of the Hallig Islands, forms a transition zone where a regional identity – in the form of local products and services – can be fostered.

  • Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (India), in the Himalayan Mountains in the northern part of the country, includes as core zones the Nanda Devi National Park/World Heritage site and the Valley of the Flowers National Park. Local communities in the Lata-Tolma-Malari and Pindari areas are benefiting from the development of alternative sources of income, such as ecotourism, and from the improvement of a rich variety of agricultural activities.

  • Selva Pisana Biosphere Reserve (Italy), a coastal area in western Italy, connects the Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli Regional Park with the urban planning process and socio-economic development of the Municipality of Pisa. It focuses on sustainable agriculture, forestry, tourism, maintenance of ecosystem, and a practical experiment in reducing the “ecological footprint” of the area.

  • Mount Kuwol Biosphere Reserve (People’s Democratic Republic of Korea), situated on the West Sea of Korea, it features a rich cultural and historic heritage dating back to the origins of Buddhism and Korean culture. The site, which is also an important rice growing area, serves to balance conservation of essential ecological and hydrological functions with sustainable food production.

  • Ría Celestún Biosphere Reserve and Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve (Mexico) encompass coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. They include important wetlands designated under the Ramsar Wetlands Convention. These two sites may be joined together in the future to promote the rational use of natural resources in the wider region.


    Leopard in Russia's Kedrovaya Pad Biosphere Reserve (Photo by Ju Shibnev courtesy Derzu Urzala)
  • Kedrovaya Pad Biosphere Reserve (Russian Federation), on the Pacific coast of the country, serves to protect endangered species such as the Far East Leopard by enhancing and integrating conservation efforts and sustainable income generation opportunities.

  • Kenozerskiy Biosphere Reserve (Russian Federation), in the northwest of the country includes virgin taiga forest ecosystems and a buffer zone where sustainable forestry techniques are practiced. It also has a transition zone whose activities include tourism and traditional trades and crafts, which are being revived. The site is a globally important migratory bird habitat, and contains unique swamp and forest ecosystems.

  • Valdaisky Biosphere Reserve (Russian Federation) is located in the Valdai Highlands, in the northwest of the country. Created around a national park, it will focus on providing new employment opportunities to the region while encouraging environmentally friendly natural resource use.

  • The Karst Biosphere Reserve, (Slovenia), has as its core area the Skocjan caves, which are designated both as a World Heritage site and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The Biosphere Reserve seeks to integrate and coordinate sustainable agricultural practices with the preservation of caves and local hydrological processes, controlling surface and subsurface pollution from fertilizers and waste-water.

  • Babia Biosphere Reserve Unit, Gran Reserva de Biosfera Cantabrica, (Spain), located in the Castilla y León Autonomous Region of Northern Spain, is an additional component of the multi-unit Biosphere Reserve extending across the Cordillera Cantabrica Mountains.

  • Menorca Biosphere Reserve (Spain) was expanded to increase its marine zone.

  • Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya Biosphere Reserve (Sri Lanka), which covers lowland and mountain tropical forests, encompasses an important watershed which feeds numerous rivers and streams, which in turn are vital to agriculture and energy production in the region.

  • Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve (Vietnam), an archipelago in the north of Vietnam, which is adjacent to the Ha Long Bay World Heritage site, is home to the threatened endemic monkey species, the golden-headed Langur. A major coastal fishing zone, the area has tremendous potential in agri- and aqua-culture as well as other development opportunities.

  • Red River Delta Biosphere Reserve (Vietnam), also located in the northern part of the country, includes a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in the core area. It contains valuable mangrove habitats and serves as a demonstration area for sustainable fishery systems.

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