Audrey Azoulay - Director-General of UNESCO -- “Environmental education is essential to rebuild our relationship with nature from early childhood to biosphere research programmes, and UNESCO is mobilized to ensure that the environment becomes a key curriculum component by 2025”.
Twenty new Biosphere Reserves were welcomed to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves during the 33rd session of the International Co-ordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme held Abuja, Nigeria from 13 – 17 September 2021 and attended online by its member and observer countries. Of the new Biosphere Reserves, eight are located in Asia and the Pacific. They stand to make a significant contribution to the region’s engagement with the MAB programme and to the sustainable future of the region’s people and nature.
The newly designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (BR) in Asia and the Pacific are:
Kolsai Kolderi Biosphere Reserve, Kazakhstan
Located in the northern part of the Tien Shan mountain system, Kolsai Kolderi features unique landscapes of steppes that rise to the iced peaks of the alpine belt, canyons, rivers and scenic lakes framed by coniferous and deciduous forests It is home to many rare and endangered species, notably Tien Shan brown bears, snow leopards and Turkestan lynxes. The biosphere reserve covers an area of 242,085 ha and is bordered to the south by Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve.
While most of its 8,000 inhabitants make their living from agriculture and animal husbandry, the biosphere reserve has an enormous potential for sustainable tourism, enhanced by its proximity Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial, economic and cultural hub.
The main goal of the biosphere reserve is to preserve typical, rare and unique natural features, and support sustainable socio-economic development.
Wando Biosphere Reserve, Republic of Korea
Located at the Southernmost tip of the Korean Peninsula, the Wando Archipelago comprises 265 islands, only 55 of which are inhabited by a total of some 50,000 people who welcome 3 million visitors a year. Marine areas account for almost 90% of the 403,899 ha biosphere reserve.
Warm-temperate evergreen broad-leaf forests cover the mountain slopes and stretch along the coasts of Wando, which features a variety of ecosystems including salt marshes, rocky habitats, sandy areas, tidal flats, and intertidal and sub-littoral zones extending into the sea, which hosts an equally rich diversity of marine wildlife.
This biosphere reserve presents fine examples of traditional land management practices, such as Maeulsup (village forests and groves that protect residents and farmlands from strong winds) and Gudeuljangnon (terraced rice paddies). The inhabitants recognize that these sustainable practices and a healthy environment add a significant value to their archipelago’s seafood production and tourism.
Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve, Malaysia
Penang Hill is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia, attracting 1.6 million visitors each year. Situated on Penang Island, in a global biodiversity hotspot. It covers a surface area of 12,481 ha including 5,196 ha of marine areas and features Malaysia’s only meromictic lake whose bottom layer of seawater is covered by a layer of freshwater constituting a rare ecosystem that is home to fragile and threatened aquatic species, like the endemic toad Ansonia penangensis.
Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve is a mosaic of urban, agricultural and natural landscapes, with one of the last coastal rainforests in Malaysia, coastal lowland and hill dipterocarp forests, mangroves, wetlands, sandy beaches and coral reefs. These diverse habitats support a wide range of floral and faunal diversity, including endemic and endangered species such as Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) and migratory birds. Its beaches are common nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles.
Penang Hill has been a major tourist attraction and a magnet for colonial officials and botanists in the 19th century. Since their creation in 1884, the Penang Botanic Gardens have served as a repository of Penang Hill’s flora and fauna which numbers over 2,400 plant species, including over 200 species of orchids.
Uvs Lake Depression Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Mongolia – Russian Federation
Situated on the border of the Russian Federation, the 335,000 ha Uvs Lake, the largest in Mongolia, is encircled by the semi-arid foothills of the southern Altay Mountains. Uvs has a flat shallow basin, which makes it a natural salt lake.
The Uvs Lake Depression, a core area of the Altay Sayan global eco-region, is part of the newly designated transboundary biosphere reserve which extends over a vast 2,242,112.70 ha, bridging two entire biomes of the Siberian taïga and Mongolian steppes. The site provides habitat to emblematic species such as the Argali sheep, snow leopard, Altay ibex, as well as migratory birds.
The transboundary biosphere reserve brings together Uvs Nuur Basin Biosphere Reserve, on the Mongolian side, and Ubsunorskaya Kotlovina Biosphere Reserve, on the Russian side, both of which were designated in 1997.
Work to join the two biosphere reserves began in 2011 with the creation of a joint coordinating body, which carried out participatory workshops and meetings to foster transboundary nature conservation. Ten years on, this long-term cooperation allowed for the establishment of a model region straddling the two countries.
Doi Chiang Dao Biosphere Reserve, Thailand
Doi Chiang Dao Biosphere Reserve is located in Chiang Dao District of Chiang Mai Province in Thailand. It is the only region in the country to be covered with sub-alpine vegetation, found also in the Himalayas and in the southern part of China. Many rare, endangered or vulnerable species live in the 85,909.04 ha biosphere reserve, such as the Lar Gibbon (Hylobates lar), leaf monkey (Trachypithecus phayrei), Chinese Goral (Naemorhedus griseus), Tiger (Panthera tigris), or Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa).
The landscape abounds with caves formed by the infiltration of rain water through limestone formations. The largest and most important of these is Chiang Dao Cave, from which the biosphere reserve takes its name. The cave is associated with the legend of Chao Luang Chiang Dao, the king of all spirits, who is believed to reside in the towering Doi Chiang Dao mountain; both are revered as sacred places. A Buddhist temple in the Lanna style marks the entrance of the cave. The cave and mountain attract many visitors each year, and a model for visitor impact management was implemented. Ecotourism, birdwatching and stargazing are further local tourist attractions.
Agriculture using a traditional gravity-based irrigation system called Maung Fai is a notable activity in the site, where local practices and knowledge have been maintained over almost 800 years.
Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve, Uzbekistan
Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve (LABR) in Uzbekistan is located in the northern part of the lower reaches of the River Amudarya, southeast of the former coast of the Aral Sea. The site is one of the largest areas of natural Tugai in Central Asia which, from a global perspective, is a unique and threatened ecosystem.
By entering the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, LABR’s stakeholders will notably aim to conserve and restore the natural landscapes, animal and plant species of Tugai forests as well as other natural features characteristic of the riparian forests of Central Asia.
The area provides an important habitat for plant and animal life and contains the highest biodiversity in the desert regions of Central Asia. It is also the natural andprotected environment of the threatened Bukhara Deer (Cervus hanglu bactrianus).
Nui Chua Biosphere Reserve, Viet Nam
The 106.646,45 ha. Nui Chua Biosphere Reserve encompasses the terrestrial and marine areas of Ninh Thuan Province and is located at the end of the Truong Son Mountain Range where the climateis harsh with sunny, hot and arid weather and minimal rainfall The biosphere reserve is a representative area in terms of biodiversity with a rich and diverse mosaic of ecosystems characteristic of the south-central region of Viet Nam, including unique semi-arid vegetation, sea turtle nesting beaches and coral reefs.
A total population of 447,162 people live in the site including the main ethnic groups of Kinh, Cham, Raglai, Hoa, Tay, Nung and Muong, all of whom have diverse cultures, artistic, religious and architectural traditions as well as numerous rituals and large festivals.
Kon ha Nung Biosphere Reserve, Viet Nam
Kon ha Nung is located in the highlands of Central Viet Nam, the so called ‘Roof of Indochina’, the highest peak of which reaches over 1,700 m. and extends over 413,511.67 ha and is home to 413,511.67 inhabitants. The biosphere reserve is also home to rare species such as the Gray-shanked douc (Pygathrix cinerea) a rare and endemic primate species of Viet Nam, classified as critically endangered, with only about 1,000 individuals in the wild.
The biosphere reserve is managed in line with the traditional knowledge of local communities including Indigenous and folk knowledge about production and social organization. The Gia Lai Province People’s Committee formulates policies concerning land and forest allocations to households, payment for forest ecosystem services and the development of sustainable ecotourism.
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves also welcomed three new countries to the UNESCO MAB family when Lesotho, Libya and Saudi Arabia received approval for their first biosphere reserve. In the MAB Programme’s 50th anniversary year, World Network now counts 727 biosphere reserves in 131 countries.