Biosphere Reserves as a Tool for Coastal and Island Management in the South-East Pacific Region (BRESEP)


Map data ©2014 Inav/Geosistemas SLR Imagery ©2014 NASA Terra Metrics
BRESEP Project countries: Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru

The coastal zone and marine environments of South-East Pacific countries (Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru) host an enormous diversity of life, and play an important role in  each of these countries’ economies.

The west coast, from southern Chile to northern Peru, is associated with the Humboldt Current – one of the world’s most productive Large Marine Ecosystems (LME), representing approximately 18-20% of the global fish catch and hosting globally significant biodiversity (Heileman et al., 2009).

Ecuador, Colombia and Panama are part of the Pacific-Central American Coastal LME, which covers a surface area of nearly 2 million km2, of which 1.42% is protected. The Pacific-Central American Coastal LME is considered a high productivity ecosystem, rich in both pelagic and demersal fisheries (op cit.).

The various human land-based activities, including agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, urban development, mining, industry and marine-based activities (marine shipping with its fuel spills and ballast water dumping) have significant direct and indirect effects on the marine coastal environment of the South-East Pacific. These activities provide an important source of employment and vital socio-economic benefits, yet also inflict environmental degradation (CPPS and UNEP, 2001).

Puerto Williams, Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, Chile. © Miguel Clüsener-Godt.

Furthermore, the region is regularly subjected to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, which produces dramatic upheavals in local, and ultimately global, climatic weather conditions. This affects marine ecosystems and human livelihoods,  in addition to creating enormous social and economic impacts (UNEP, 2005).

UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme encourages countries to establish biosphere reserves in order to promote a sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science.

There are currently 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries; more than 200 of which are located on islands and coastal areas. There are currently 9 biosphere reserves along the Pacific coast of South America, two of which have exceptional practices worth sharing through this project: Archipiélago de Colón (Galápagos) in Ecuador and Cabo de Hornos in Chile.


The three main objectives of this project are:

  • the creation and reinforcement of existing biosphere reserves on the coastal areas and islands of the west coast of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru.
  • the promotion of biosphere reserves as tools for innovative projects to bring added value to local socio-economical activities; and
  • awareness-raising and capacity building of all concerned stakeholders in the area.
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