What is a Biosphere Reserve?

Created in 1971, UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) develops the basis for the sustainable use and conservation of biological diversity and for the improvement of the relationship between people and their environment globally.

The programme encourages interdisciplinary research, demonstration and training in natural resource management. MAB contributes thus not only to better understanding of the environment, including global change, but to greater involvement of science and scientists in policy development concerning the wise use of biological diversity. The Programme is now focusing on new approaches for facilitating sustainable development, through promoting conservation and wise use of biodiversity.

In the framework of the MAB programme, biosphere reserves (over 400 sites in nearly 100 countries) serve to put into practice the ecosystem approach. Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal or marine ecosystems, or a combination thereof, that are recognised internationally within the MAB Programme. Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under their jurisdiction. They must meet a minimal set of criteria and adhere to certain conditions before being admitted into the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Each reserve is intended to fulfil three complementary functions:

  1. a conservation function (preserve landscapes, ecosystems, species, and genetic variation),
  2. a development function (foster sustainable economic and human development),
  3. and a logistic function (support demonstration projects, environmental education and training, and research and monitoring related to local, national, and global issues of conservation and sustainable development). Biosphere reserves contain one or more core areas, which are securely protected sites; a clearly identified buffer zone; and a flexible transition area.
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