What Is A Biosphere Reserve?Biosphere Reserves are important ecosystems that are internationally recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program. They are sites established to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science. They serve as a demonstration areas where communities combine conservation of biodiversity with sustainable community development.
Biosphere Reserves serve in some ways as living laboratories for testing out and demonstrating integrated management of land, water and biodiversity. Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfill three basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:
- A conservation function to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation;
- A development function to foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable;
- A logistic function to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.
Biosphere Reserves are designed to meet one of the most challenging issues that the World is facing today: How can we conserve the diversity of plants, animals and micro-organisms which make up our living biosphere and maintain healthy natural systems while, at the same time, meet the material needs and aspirations of an increasing number of people? How can we reconcile conservation of natural resources with their sustainable use? Biosphere Reserves have been designed as tools for reconciling and integrating the conflicting interests and pressures that characterize land-use planning today.
After their designation, Biosphere Reserves remain under national sovereign jurisdiction, yet they share their experience and ideas regionally, nationally and internationally within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).More information visit these websites: World Summit on Sustainable Development Convention on Biological Diversity UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development.
How Is A Biosphere Reserve Designated?Establishing a biosphere reserve obviously poses a challenge, namely to set up an appropriate mechanism, for instance; a steering committee, to plan and co-ordinate all the activities that will take place there. This human dimension of biosphere reserves makes them special, since the management essentially becomes a pact between the local community and society as a whole. The area must first be presented by the interested party to the Man and Biosphere Program as a nomination to be considered as a World Biosphere Reserve. The United Nations Scientific, Cultural and Educational Organization (UNESCO) must recognize that the area is ecologically significant. The area must have opportunities for sustainable development and, political support from all relevant communities. Letters of support are written and the nomination goes to Canadian officials for approval before being sent to UNESCO in Paris, France, where the final decision is made.
How Many Biosphere Reserves Exist?Since UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program started in 1971, there have been 651 Biosphere Reserves designated in 120 countries. As of 2012, Canada has a network of 16 Biosphere Reserves from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.
When And Why Was Long Point Designated A Biosphere Reserve?The Long Point area comprising 26,250 hectares, was designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in April, 1986, the third in Canada. Today it is one of 16 Biosphere Reserves in Canada. It provides an example of the Great Lakes coastal ecosystem and a unique blend of habitats.
Long uninterrupted beaches, undisturbed sand dunes, grassy ridges, wet meadows, woodlands, marshes and ponds, coldwater streams, and the shallow Inner Bay. It is a world-renowned refuge and stopover for migrating birds in fall and spring, and waterfowl viewing is excellent in March and April. Its delicate dunes and marshes teem with songbirds, spawning fish, turtles and frogs.
The Southern Norfolk sand plains that lie immediately to the north of Long Point are well-known for their rich agricultural lands, tallgrass prairie and oak savanna remnants, wetlands and forests. Farmers, woodlot owners and other rural property owners living here take great pride in practicing sound land stewardship and value the interaction they have with the biodiversity in this special part of Ontario.
Within the watersheds that feed Long Point Bay are some of the finest examples of Canada's remaining Carolinian forest and habitat's that have arguably the highest diversity of plants and animals anywhere in our country. This includes a wide variety of fish and game as well as many species at risk such as the threatened Eastern Fox Snake, Blanding's Turtle, the endangered American Badger and, Eastern Flowering Dogwood.
Does A Biosphere Reserve Actually Reserve Land Like a Park?No. 'Reserve' is actually the internationally accepted term for what might be better understood in Canada as 'regions'. Biosphere Reserves have no legal or regulatory powers. It is important to note that biosphere reserves respect existing jurisdictional arrangements, including private property; municipal, provincial and federal lands; and are neutral regarding any land claims or Treaty issues. In the case of Long Point's core area - the Long Point National Wildlife Area - the Canadian Wildlife Service manages this protected area. Biosphere Reserves take a regional approach to encourage cooperative social and economic development.
What Area Is Covered By The Long Point World Biosphere Reserve?Biosphere Reserves have geologic boundaries; they may be found completely inland, along the coast or enclosing natural watersheds. The make-up of a Biosphere Reserve can vary greatly but is usually defined by 3 zones or areas: the core area, the buffer area and the area of cooperation. (The latter is sometimes referred to as a transition zone.)
(Please refer to the map below)
- The Core Area is a usually a protected natural area that acts as a reference point. This area usually defines the Biosphere Reserve. In Long Point Biosphere's case the core area is the Long Point National Wildlife Area.
- The Buffer Area surrounds the Core Area and is ideally managed in ways that support the conservation objectives of the Core Area.
- The Area of Cooperation extends beyond the core area and is sometimes defined by geographical boundaries. Roughly speaking, in Long Point's case it would be the watershed of Long Point Bay.
What Does The Biosphere Reserve Actually Do?The Biosphere Reserve, as an international designation, encourages appropriate, sustainable development.
Sustainable development can only be achieved by working with other groups and organizations committed to the same goals. Our work necessitates creating partnerships, building networks, facilitating dialogue, and coordinating programs with other partners.
Biosphere Reserves strive to achieve four pillars of sustainable development:
Environmental sustainability: all actions should enhance and protect environmental health upon which human health & the economy depend;
Economic sustainability: we must support local livelihoods, create a vibrant economy and foster long term wealth for our citizens;
Social sustainability: our institutions and infrastructure must foster healthy family and community life over the long term;
Cultural sustainability: we must preserve our rich and diverse cultural heritage, while fostering an atmosphere that encourages expression, communication and interaction in the arts, recreation and well-being of our citizens and visitors.
The LPWBRF acts as a facilitator for collaborative projects and community-based initiatives.
How can I be involved?We welcome applications for membership by those interested in the mission of the Biosphere Reserve program. Students, individual/family, organizations and corporate sponsors, including municipalities, schools and universities are encouraged to apply.
After the applications are approved by the Board of Directors, new members can be involved as much or as little as they wish.
Members vote at annual meetings and are encouraged to make suggestions for activities or projects that are compatible with the goals of Biosphere Reserves.
Visit our "Become a Member" page for more information.
How Did Biosphere Reserves Begin?In 1968 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) organized a conference looking at international environmental issues. The aim was to establish natural areas representing the unique habitats on earth. These natural areas would be protected from being destroyed and research could be done on them and used to monitor changes in the environment.
This Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program was officially launched by UNESCO in 1971. One of the MAB projects consisted of establishing a coordinated world network of new protected areas, to be designated as Biosphere Reserves, in reference to the program itself.
Today, MAB has been around for over 45 years. Globally there are 651 Biosphere Reserves in 120 countries, testing and demonstrating approaches to sustainable development.
How Are Biosphere Reserves Selected?Biosphere Reserves cover the great variety of natural areas found around the world. To qualify for designation as a Biosphere Reserve, an area should normally:
- Represent a large protected natural area close to a human population.
- Contain a variety of landscapes, plants and animals, some in which may need protection.
- Provide opportunities for communities to explore and demonstrate approaches to grow and develop in an environmentally conscious way.
- Be large enough to fulfill the three basic functions of biosphere reserves.
- Have an appropriate zoning system, with a legally constituted core area or areas, devoted to long-term protection; a clearly identified buffer zone and an outer zone of influence.
How Are Biosphere Reserves Organized?To carry out the complementary activities of nature conservation and use of natural resources, Biosphere Reserves are organized into three interrelated zones, known as the core area, the buffer zone and the zone of influence.
The core area needs to be legally established and give long-term protection to the landscapes, ecosystems and species it contains. It should be sufficiently large to meet these conservation objectives. As nature is rarely uniform and as historical land-use constraints exist in many parts of the world, there may be several core areas in a single biosphere reserve to ensure a representative coverage of the mosaic of ecological systems. Normally, the core area is not subject to human activity, except research and monitoring.
A buffer zone (or zones) which is clearly delineated and which surrounds or is contiguous to the core area. Activities are organized here so that they do not hinder the conservation objectives of the core area but rather help to protect it, hence the idea of buffering. It can be an area for experimental research, for example to discover ways to manage natural vegetation, croplands, forests, fisheries, to enhance high quality production while conserving natural processes and biodiversity, including soil resources, to the maximum extent possible. In a similar manner, experiments can be carried out in the buffer zone to explore how to rehabilitate degraded areas. It may accommodate education, training, tourism and recreation facilities. In buffer zones, emphasis is on sustainable use of the natural resources for the benefit of local communities.
The outer zone of influence may contain a variety of land uses including agricultural activities, human settlements and industry. It is here that the local communities, conservation agencies, scientists, community groups, private enterprises and other stakeholders must agree to work together to manage and sustainably develop the area's resources for the benefit of the people who live there. Given the role that biosphere reserves should play in promoting the sustainable management of the natural resources of the region in which they lie, the zone of influence is of great economic and social significance for regional development.
Why Do We Need Biosphere Reserves?To conserve biological diversity. Human pressures on land and water resources are drastically reducing the diversity of genes, plant and animal species, ecosystems and landscapes of the planet. This threatens human welfare, since this biodiversity is the potential source of foods, fibers, medicines, and raw material for industry and building. It constitutes an irreplaceable wealth for research, education and recreation for the whole of humankind. The core areas and buffer zones of biosphere reserves serve as repositories to safeguard samples of the biodiversity of the world's major biogeographical regions, and as reference and study sites to help improve our knowledge on biodiversity.
To maintain healthy ecosystems. Biosphere Reserves, which may represent large areas of land and water, contribute significantly to the maintenance of the life support systems which serve to avoid soil erosion, maintain soil fertility, regulate river flow, recharge aquifers, recycle nutrients, and absorb air and water pollutants.
To learn about natural systems and how they are changing. Research may be conducted on the structure and dynamics of the minimally disturbed natural systems of the core areas of Biosphere Reserves, and compared with the functioning of human-affected landscapes in the buffer and transition areas. Such studies, when carried out over the long term, show how these systems may be changing over time. Setting up similar long-term monitoring plots, and harmonizing methods and measurements allows comparison of results regionally and worldwide. The information thus obtained allows us to better understand global environmental changes.
To learn about traditional forms of land-use. People in many parts of the world have devised, over a long period of time, ingenious land-use practices which do not deplete the natural resources and which can provide valuable knowledge for modern production systems. Biosphere Reserves are areas where such peoples can maintain their traditions, as well as improving their economic well-being through the use of culturally and environmentally appropriate technologies.
To share knowledge on how to manage natural resources in a sustainable way. Research to find land-use practices that improve human well-being, without degrading the environment, is a central purpose of Biosphere Reserves. The lessons are learned at the local level through on-the-spot training and demonstrations. They can then be applied in the transition area and in the region beyond. Government officials, national and foreign scientists, visitors, as well as local community leaders, all benefit from this experience. The Biosphere Reserve serves to share knowledge and skills at the local, national and international levels.
To co-operate in solving natural resources problems. A major obstacle to reconciling environment with development is the division of our institutions. Biosphere Reserves provide places where conflicts of interest can be debated by all the stakeholders concerned: local officials, landowners, nature conservation associations, government leaders, scientists, local farmers, fishermen, private enterprises, etc. All must work together to find appropriate co-ordination mechanisms to plan and manage the Biosphere Reserve. Biosphere Reserves therefore provide opportunities for open discussion, information sharing and conflict resolution, which could be, applied in other development issues.For more information about world biosphere reserves visit the United Nations web site.