The biosphere encompasses all the ecosystems (living organisms) present in the three zones of the planet. That is to say the lithosphere (external layer of the terrestrial globe), the atmosphere (gaseous layer which surrounds the globe) and the hydrosphere (all the forms of water present on the Earth). For 51 years, Unesco – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – has endeavored to list areas where the biosphere is particularly remarkable… and deserves enhanced protection.
The goal is to “to reconcile human activity with the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity through its Program on Man and the Biosphere (MAB)”, explains Audrey Azoulay, Director General of Unesco. In June 2022, the organization presented eleven new biosphere reserves. They are spread over nine countries including, for the first time, Georgia, Chad and Zambia. In total, all of the 738 sites identified by Unesco now cover a protected area of more than 1.3 million km² worldwide, spread over 134 countries.
1. Sunshine Coast Biosphere Reserve (Australia)
The Sunshine Coast is located in southeast Queensland, about 100 kilometers north of Brisbane. By the sea, you can discover a picturesque coastline, dunes, beaches, vast rivers. But also wetlands and a mountain range in the hinterland. “Home to two groups of First Nations, the Kabi Kabi and Jinibara, the biosphere reserve maintains a highly valued natural environment and rich biodiversity, particularly within the 2,585 km2 terrestrial and marine protected areas”, explains Unesco. Very popular, the area is visited by around 8 million tourists a year.
2. Doumba-Rey (Cameroon)
This West Central African country already had three biosphere reserves identified by Unesco. In June 2022, a fourth is added. Doumba-Rey is particularly important because it is home to a large population of birds (more than 100 identified species) but also a very diverse flora. “Located in the transition zone between savannas and forests, it plays an important role in carbon sequestration and is home to emblematic species, including elephants”, notes Unesco. Within this biosphere reserve, there are about sixty villages where hunters and shepherds live.
3. Sena Oura Biosphere Reserve (Chad)
Sena Oura National Park was created in 2008 by the Chadian government. Located on the border with Cameroon, it has a Sudanese savannah type ecosystem. Covering a total area of 173,520 hectares, these are the last intact remnants of this Sudanese savannah in Chad. Among the fauna present, one can quote derby elands, antelopes, damalisques, giraffes and elephants. “Thanks to the profusion of fertile land and favorable agro-climatic conditions, traditional agriculture and cattle breeding in particular ensure the subsistence of nearly 90% of the population”, says Unesco. The region is also a producer of honey and shea oil.
4. Dedoplistskaro (Georgia)
Near the border with Azerbaijan, around the Takhti-Tepha mud volcano, stands the Georgian region of Dedoplistskaro. Very sparsely populated, it is a very remote area where the biosphere flourishes peacefully. Little surprising in these conditions to count “many species of mammals (52), birds (90) and reptiles (30), including the iconic African leopard and goiter gazelle”notes Unesco.
5. Alazani Three Rivers Biosphere Reserve (Georgia)
Again Georgia in the spotlight with the area of the three Alazani rivers. This beautiful valley is a mix of alpine forests, floodplains and alpine meadows. “It is home to several iconic species such as black bear, gray wolf and lynx, as well as red listed flora and relict yew forests”, Unesco list. Part of this biosphere is more populated and hosts many archaeological and religious sites. “The biosphere reserve aims to support and revitalize transhumant herding, including the local breed of tushetian sheep, and to promote tourist visits to vineyards”adds Unesco.
6. Burabai (Kazakhstan)
On the plateau of central Kazakhstan, the Burabai district is home to a multitude of lakes. And 14 of them have a total area of more than 100 km2. “It is very representative of the biodiversity of the Eurasian forest-steppe ecotone”, explains Unesco. Within it, the resort area of Shchuchinsk-Borovoye has attracted many visitors since its inception in 2005.
7. Markakol (Kazakhstan)
Also in Kazakhstan, in the southern part of Western Altai, the Markakol region is included in the selection of UNESCO biosphere reserves. At the border with China, “It encompasses unique and characteristic landscapes of mid-mountain taiga and high-mountain alpine landscapes of the Eurasian temperate steppe ecoregion, which are home to various endemic species, including snow leopard and rock marten, rare and endangered species.”
8. Lake Khövsgöl Biosphere Reserve (Mongolia)
In Mongolia, Lake Khövsgöl and its surroundings are known to be the setting for particularly dynamic biodiversity. In these vast uninhabited and still intact areas, there are many lush, aromatic and brightly colored wild plants. “Its diverse ecosystems are home to a variety of unique species, some of which are rare and endangered, such as snow leopard, ibex ibex, Siberian musk deer, moose, reindeer, red deer and bear brown”says Unesco.
9. Harrat Uwayrid (Saudi Arabia)
This is Saudi Arabia’s second biosphere reserve. This is located in the western part of the country. It is particularly important because it “home to globally critically endangered species, including the Arabian leopard and Arabian gazelle, as well as various species of endemic flora.”
10. Kafué Swamps Biosphere Reserve (Zambia)
The Kafué marshes extend over no less than 26,000 km2. This national park is the largest in Zambia. “It is home to more than 400 bird species and several mammals, including zebra, buffalo, hippopotamus and the endemic Kafué lechwe. It is mainly occupied by the Ila/Balundwe, transhumant herders who also practice fishing and agriculture”reveals Unesco.
11. Chimanimani (Zimbabwe)
It is the second biosphere reserve identified by Unesco in Zimbabwe. The Chimanimani area, located in the south of the country, has mountains, forests and grasslands. But also a vast system of fresh water, like, here, this waterfall. “This biosphere reserve includes six key biodiversity areas rich in endemic plant species and 88 archaeological sites. It is inhabited by approximately 154,000 people, mainly from the Ndau culture, most of whom speak an endangered language. Local people benefit from natural resources through tourism and non-timber forest products such as honey and livestock”explains Unesco.