Some exceptional activities in Biosphere Reserves

El Hierro Biosphere Reserve, Spain

CC Carlos Teixidor Cadenas/Wikimedia Commons.

El Hierro the smallest and most southerly of the Canary Islands set a new standard in sustainability in 2014. A hybrid hydro-wind electricity generation system made El Hierro the first energy self-sufficient island relying entirely on renewable energy sources. What makes El Hierro special is the combination of a wind farm with a hydraulic accumulation system that stores energy. When the wind stops blowing or energy demands are high, the stored energy in the hydroelectric plant can ensure the island a continuous power supply.

Volcans Biosphere Reserve, Rwanda

Handling solar panels in Rwanda. ©Julien Simery

In February 2014, UNESCO in partnership with ‘the Gorilla Organization’, a local NGO, presented solar equipment (i.e. solar panels, batteries, solar lanterns and electronic components) to a village in the Volcans Biosphere Reserve in Rwanda, home to the endangered mountain gorillas. The solar equipment will provide improved access to energy and security, and was installed in individual homes by local grandmothers, who were sent to India for six months in 2012 to train as fully qualified solar engineers. The training was provided through a partnership with Barefoot College in Tilonia, India, and was supported by the Government of India. The project provides hope and new opportunities to an entire community, and helps to reduce pressure on the habitat of the iconic mountain gorillas, of which only 880 remain in the world.

Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala

©Wikimedia Commons/Jorge Antonio Leoni de Leon
Maya Biosphere Reserve

The Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of northern Guatemala, together with the Maya Forest of Belize and Mexico, is one of the largest areas of tropical forest north of the Amazon. However, about 45,000 ha of rainforest in this region is destroyed illegally each year. At present, attention is focused on saving the reserve from fires and logging to the extent possible through sustainable management. One approach is to obtain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. To date, 488,000 hectares of forestland have been certified to FSC standards with certified wood and other forest resources from the Petén reaching international markets. As a result, deforestation occurs at a much lower level in FSC certified forest concessions. Another source of income from sustainable management of these forests is “Guate Carbon”, carbon sequestration credits, where reductions in carbon emissions from leaving forests intact is quantified and sold in voluntary carbon markets. This project aims to generate emissions reductions that can be monitored, verified and reported. Over the next 20 years, the project hopes to prevent 16 million tonnes of CO2, or 800,000 tons per year, from being released into the atmosphere. Forest communities and wildlife within the reserve will also benefit from these emission reductions.

World Network on Islands and Coastal Biosphere Reserves

© UNESCO/M. Clusener-Godt
Meeting of the World Network of Island and Coastal Area Biosphere Reserves in Menorca (Spain)

In 2012, the World Network on Islands and Coastal Biosphere Reserves was founded. At present, the network consists of 26 Islands and Coastal Biosphere Reserves around the world. It was established due to the high vulnerability of especially small islands to climate change. Natural disasters, poverty and the detrimental effect of invasive species are only some of the impacts that alter the balance of marine and terrestrial island ecosystems and cause irreversible loss of biodiversity. The establishment of the network enables a common approach to these issues. The network has two headquarters: the office located on the island of Jeju in South Korea, focuses on climate change issues.

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