Biosphere Reserves

Reserva de Biosfera Agua y Paz, Costa Rica

Reserva de Biosfera Agua y Paz, Costa Rica

Biosphere reserves are areas composed of terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems where biological diversity merges with cultural wealth. Moreover, they provide important ecosystem and provision services (agrobiodiversity, water, etc.), as well as regulation services (weather/climate, water quality, erosion control), cultural services (tourism and entertainment) and support ones (grounds, primary production).

They beneficiate from international recognition from UNESCO and its MAB Programme and are “Science for Sustainability support sites”, that is to say special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity.

All biosphere reserves remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. They are compatible with other systems and (are) internationally recognized. They are designated by the International Coordinating Council of the MAB programme, upon request of the Member State concerned and in accordance with the established requirements.

In 2016, the World Network had 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries, including 16 transboundary sites. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are 125 reserves in 21 countries.


  • 72 in 28 countries in Africa
  • 29 in 11 countries in the Arab States
  • 141 in 24 countries in Asia and the Pacific
  • 303 in 36 countries in Europe and North America
  • 125 in 21 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean

Functions of the Biosphere Reserves

To be designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, three functions must be fulfilled:


  1. Conservation of the landscapes, ecosystems and species;
  2. Development, encouraging/to encourage sustainable economic and human development from a sociocultural and ecological point of view.
  3. Logistic support for demonstration, education and training projects on the environment, and research and permanent observation projects relating to local, regional, national and global issues on conservation and sustainable development.

To achieve those functions, a biosphere reserve must be divided in three zones:


  • The core area, composed of a strictly protected ecosystem that contributed to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
  • The buffer zone, which surrounds the core area and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training and education.
  • The transition area, the part of the reserve where the greatest number of activities is allowed to foster economic and human development that is socially, culturally and ecologically sustainable.

Characteristics of Biosphere Reserves (BR)

In addition to the functions to be achieved/achieving/completing the functions and organization in different areas, a biosphere reserve must respect some other 5/6 characteristics:


  • To contain a patchwork of ecological systems that represent important biogeographic regions
  • To be of relevance for biological diversity conservation
  • To offer possibilities of demonstrating sustainable development methods at regional level
  • To have a sufficient size/sufficient dimensions to achieve the three functions
  • To facilitate the integration and participation of public authorities, local communities and private interests, in the conception and execution of the functions of biosphere reserves
  • To take measures to be provided with: a mechanism to manage the use of resources and human activities in the buffer zone; a management policy for the area; an authority or institutional dispositive in charge of applying the policy; research, education and training programmes.


Aplicaciones (copy 1)

Back to top