UNESCO Unveils 25 New Biosphere Reserves

PARIS, France, October 30, 2006 (ENS) - A haven for monarch butterflies in Mexico and prime dugong habitat in Vietnam are among 25 new sites that UNESCO has added to its Man and the Biosphere program, which places biosphere reserves under the stewardship of local communities.

The International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme of UNESCO, meeting from October 24 to 27 in Paris, designated the new sites as part of its 30 year old program that explores innovative partnerships among local communities, government agencies and the private sector to safeguard biodiverse areas for future generations.

Of the 25 new Man and the Biosphere, MAB, sites announced on Friday, 18 are located in Mexico. Three are in Spain, including one transboundary reserve straddling Spain and Morocco, and the council designated one new site each in the Russian Federation, in Vietnam and in Malawi.

butterflies

Each year, over 100 million monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to spend the winter in the easternmost part of Michoacan state. (Photo courtesy A Closer Look Tours)
In places like Michoacana, Mexico, that means encouraging reforestation of traditional monarch butterfly habitat that had been cleared to grow corn. Every October millions of monarch butterflies descend on the Michoacanos forests after a 4,000 kilometer (2,500 mile) trip from Canada and the United States.

Along with the butterflies comes a sizable contingent of tourists, providing income for the local population.

The announcement made the Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve Vietnam's largest area of environmental protection, covering an area of more than 1.1 million hectares, (2.7 million acres).

Part of that reserve, Phu Quoc National Park, is becoming an ecotourist destination because of its rich ecosystem with more than 470 species of plants, 140 species of wild animals, and several types of coral reefs offshore.

Phu Quoc, the largest island in Vietnam, is also part of an archipelago consisting of 22 islands and islets. Many species here are on the Red List of Threatened Species, the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species, compiled by the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

Tourists come to see such rarities as the endangered red-headed crane and the dugong, cousin of the manatee, which inhabits Caribbean waters.

cranes

In April, the International Crane Association recorded the return of 297 red-headed cranes to Vietnam, slightly down from the 310 the previous April. (Photo courtesy VietNamNet Bridge)
UNESCO believes that if ecotourism is encouraged it could contribute to sustainable development in the area, bridging the divide between economic growth and environmental protection.

The 25 new reserves added by the International Coordinating Council brings the total number of MAB reserves to 507 in 102 countries. Extensions or changes to four existing biosphere reserves also were approved.

Highlights among the new sites include Cumbres de Monterrey, Mexico, important for its underground aquifers that ensure water supply to nearby urban areas of Monterrey. The reserve is significant for the preservation of bird species and for its abundant oak forests.

Huatulco on the Pacific coast of Mexico's Oaxaca province has a wide variety of natural resources ranging from tropical dry forests to coral reefs. It is also home to turtles, dolphins and the purple snail.

La Encrucijada, Mexico, on the Pacific coast of the state of Chiapas, features remarkable lagoons. Eleven rivers and their tributaries merge with sea water to form the reserve's lagoons where shrimp fishing is popular. Human encroachment on natural resources has led Mexican authorities to establish this reserve to protect its mosaic of wetlands and coastal areas.

La Primavera, Mexico, located in the state of Jalisco, features valuable pine and oak forests important for the supply of water and wood to the city of Guadalajara.

La Sepultura, in southern Mexico's Chiapas state, is inhabited by eight of the 18 Chiapas primeval vegetation types and also features remnants of pre-Colombian cultures, such as the Olmec.

Laguna Madre and Rio Bravo Delta in northeast Mexico on the Caribbean shoreline has varied tropical and coastal forests, including salt-tolerant mangrove trees. Myriad ecosystems feature dunes and wetlands with endemic turtle species. It is a natural corridor for migrating waterfowl and is inhabited by many species of beach birds.

Los Tuxtlas

The Los Tuxtlas ecosystem in the state of Veracruz on the Caribbean coast is fundamental to the region's rainwater retention and provides the main water source for five surrounding cities. (Photo courtesy Semarnat)
Los Tuxtlas has one of the country's highest rates of biodiversity, with wet tropical rainforests stretching over three volcanoes in the central part of Mexico, in the state of Veracruz on the Caribbean coast. Indigenous Popolucas and Nahuas people make their homes in this area where some of the earliest human settlements of Mesoamerica have been found.

Maderas del Carmen, comprises part of Mexico's Eastern Sierra Madre. Its altitude and unique geography has allowed numerous flora and fauna species to thrive. The biosphere encompasses large parts of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Mariposa Monarca, Mexico, is vital to the protection of the Monarch butterfly, which migrates from North America to this site every year. Biosphere designation should ensure strong cooperation with the Canadian and U.S. authorities responsible for key sites along its migratory routes.

The new MAB site at Pantanos de Centla in the state of Tabasco, Mexico, features some 200 plant species.

Selva El Ocote, in Chiapas, features large tropical rain forests and cave formations with many endemic species. It has karstic aquifers that hold a freshwater reservoir of 600 million cubic meters. Ten of the 19 types of vegetation existing in Chiapas are found in the reserve, with tropical jungle predominating. This site shelters 646 species of land vertebrates, equal to 45 percent of vertebrates in the state and 23 percent of all those in Mexico.

Sierra de Huautla in the state of Morelos is 700 to 2,240 meters above sea level, featuring large fir forests and varied butterfly species.

Volcan Tacana, in Chiapas, on the Guatamalan border, has thriving local participation in the management and protection of the reserve's natural resources and fragile ecosystems.

Arrecife Alacranes is the largest coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico and the only coral reef in Yucatan. Beside its great biological diversity and fishing potential, the reserve is of cultural value due to the presence of many historic shipwrecks and monuments.

In the Russian Federation, the Middle Volga Integrated Biosphere Reserve features ecosystems in various stages of transformation because of human impact. This MAB site includes great biodiversity, notably 30 moss and 130 lichen species, and 300 vertebrate species - some living close to agricultural land and urban buildings.

bear

The Cantabric bear, Ursus arctos, a brown bear of the same species seen in North America, inhabits the new Os Ancares Lucenses y Montes de Cervantes, Navia y Becerrea MAB reserve. (Photo courtesy Terrambiente)
In Spain, Os Ancares Lucenses y Montes de Cervantes, Navia y Becerrea is a new reserve that UNESCO believes should help protect the Cantabric bear, Ursus arctos.

Lake Chilwa Biosphere Reserve in Malawi has rich bird life, with about 164 bird species associated with the Lake Chilwa wetland. Its great diversity of natural habitats and land cover types includes the lake itself, marshes, swamps, five major rivers, islands, a cultivated floodplain and grasslands. Communities around the lake, protected as a Wetland of International Importance by the UN Ramsar Convention - live off fishing and bird hunting, as well growing rice.

The Coordinating Council gave MAB Young Scientists Awards to 10 young scientists, 15 grants for young researchers working on the great apes of Africa, and the Michel Batisse Award for Biosphere Reserve Management.

The 2007 MAB Young Scientists Awards, up to US$5,000 each, encourage young scientists to carry out interdisciplinary projects on ecosystems, natural resources and biodiversity in keeping with the MAB Programme, which focuses on sustainable interaction between people and their environment.

Spain's Minister of the Environment, Cristina Narbona Ruiz, announced that the Third International Congress of Biosphere Reserves will be held in Madrid from February 4 to 8, 2008.