Biosphere Reserves and Sustainable Development: Greece hosts the 2021 edition of the Hybrid University in Asterousia

The Hybrid University of Asterousia 2021 is part of a long tradition of summer universities since 2012, co-organised by the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science, Culture in Europe and the Mediterranean Information for the Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (MIO-ECSDE) and hosting partners. This year’s edition continues to promote sustainable development in biosphere reserves and other protected areas. Phase A, held in presence from 19 to 24 October, convened 16 young participants from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Romania. Phase B will take place online early 2022.

The main aim of these universities is to strengthen, improve and capitalise on different aspects of the function of Biosphere Reserves (BRs) of the MAB Programme and other Protected Areas (Natura 2000 areas, SPAs/SPAMIs of the Barcelona Convention, etc.) and to train and enhance the capacities of managers, post-graduates and other stakeholders involved.

More specifically, its objectives include addressing the relationship of management with different forms of education, local community awareness and participation, and activities and methods for the promotion of sustainable development within and around BRs.

Building on the positive results of the previous editions, the 2021 Asterousia Hybrid University adopted a hybrid form, which included two phases in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The in-presence Phase A, from 19 to 24 October 2021, gathered 16 trainees and comprised interactive sessions including lectures and field visits to Asterousia and the nearby areas of Heraklion and Mylopotamo; emphasis was placed on the issue of threats to biodiversity and ecosystems caused by plastic pollution in marine & coastal BRs. Phase B scheduled online within the first half of 2022 will be enriched by video-recorded activities.

Biosphere reserves are “living laboratories” for sustainable development, for testing and demonstrating integrated management of biodiversity, water and land. With its mountainous and coastal areas, the Asterousia region has a very rich biodiversity, which is combined with both natural and cultural assets. Asterousia Mountain Range Biosphere Reserve, Greece is an example of extensive youth-led and public participation process during the preparation and nomination to become a Biosphere Reserve.

This year’s hybrid university examines the relationship between management and different forms of education, to increase community awareness and participation in promoting Sustainable Development within and across the BRs. Its overarching theme highlights the role of young professionals in sustainable development management of BRs and other designated areas. This is of crucial importance in effectively addressing climate change and shifting energy, water and overall consumption and production patterns to new paradigms.

Key discussions addressed marine pollution and biodiversity in the Mediterranean, the Water Cycle and the Water – Energy - Food – Ecosystems (WEFE) Nexus, Single Use Plastic and the issue of marine litter monitoring and assessment. At the same time, the themes focused on the Sustainable Development in BRs, Education for Sustainable Development and Ocean Literacy, while also raising public awareness.

During Phase A, participants were introduced with the MAB programme and the respective policies for the sustainable management of biosphere reserves. Focusing on coastal and marine BRs and protected areas, the trainees were given information on how to develop ESD educational programmes for schools and the methodology of organising beach clean-ups and monitoring activities with the educational community.

This year’s participants followed targeted interventions in local society. With the support of MADE consultants and in the framework of the project “Waste ashore-Mylopotamos,” the participants joined a beach clean-up and a participatory science action in the Geropotamos beach, together with 53 primary school pupils of Bali village.

In the afternoon, the participants joined a workshop for local entrepreneurs in the tourism sector titled: “Second Reporting Seminar of Tourism & Leisure entrepreneurs.” Entrepreneurs Municipality of Mylopotamos exchanged experiences, reflected on their initiatives for reducing and ending the use of single-use plastics in their enterprises and discussed how to scale up the actions and engage more stakeholders from the communities.

Phase A programme included two additional participatory activities:

The Asterousia Hybrid University is co-organised and supported by MIO-ECSDE/MEdIES Secretariat; UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe; the Asterousia Management Committee; the UNESCO Chair and Network on Sustainable Development Management and Education in the Mediterranean; the Greek National Committee for MAB/UNESCO; AKOMM, the Prefecture of Crete; with the contribution of the LIFE Programme of the European Union and of the Green Fund of Greece.