National Network of Biosphere Reserves is strengthened in Cuba

On November 17, 2021, an important meeting that had been postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality: the National Workshop on Cuba's Biosphere Reserves, which brought together in Havana, in person and virtually, the managers of the six biosphere reserves in the country. 
Since the official visit to Cuba of the Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in December 2019, it had been agreed to hold this event, under the auspices of this organization. Thanks to the joint efforts of the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), its Environment Agency (AMA), together with the Cuban National Commission for UNESCO (CNCU) and UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in America Latin America and the Caribbean, it was possible to materialize this important meeting, in a very special context: the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of “Man and the Biosphere” (MaB) Programme, as Tatiana Villegas, Officer in Charge of UNESCO Office, recalled in her opening remarks, also highlighting that:  
Cuba is an exemplary country in the conservation of its nature with six biosphere reserves in the MaB program in its territory. During this day we will be able to share information about each of these reserves and exchange experiences to continue in this task for the benefit of humanity.

The meeting also took place in the context of the celebration of UNESCO's 75th anniversary and was held on the day the CNCU reached 74 years of its creation, a happy coincidence mentioned in her words by the Secretary General of the Commission, Ambassador Dulce María Buergo, who highlighted the importance of the MaB programme as one of the most significant responses to climate change impact, due to the inestimable volume of natural resources these reserves have and that, if it is possible to interact with them in a beneficial way, they can contribute to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their targets.

In her greeting to the meeting, the Vice Minister of CITMA, Adianez Taboada Zamora, reiterated the commitment of that institution to continue working to integrate all sectors of Cuban society to the protection of biodiversity and the environment.

Serena Heckler, Regional Specialist of the Ecological and Earth Sciences Program, Coordinator of the Man and the Biosphere Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean, at UNESCO Regional Office for Science in the region, also participated in the event virtually from Montevideo.

The president of AMA, Dr. Maritza García García, host of the event, introduced the members of the Cuban Committee of the MaB, some of them with more than 30 years of work, like Dr. Avelino Suárez, its Executive Secretary, and Dr. Grisel Acosta, also an active member of the Committee. 

Dr. García presented an extensive report on the actions developed by the Cuban National Committee of the MaB Program since 2019 and exposed the main challenges that the Committee faces, among them, analyzing what new biosphere reserves could be proposed; continue working with communities in biosphere reserves and incorporate risk management, and disaster reduction for adaptation to climate change; incorporate the new generations in the work of biosphere reserves; and achieve the role of biosphere reserves in meeting the SDGs.  

Each Coordinator of the biosphere reserves in Cuba made a presentation, three of them in person: Guanahacabibes Peninsula Biosphere Reserves (Pinar del Río province), Sierra del Rosario (Artemisa province) and Ciénaga de Zapata (Matanzas province):

Three other reserves participated virtually: Cuchillas del Toa (Guantánamo province), Baconao (Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo provinces), and Buenavista (Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus and Ciego de Ávila provinces):

In all cases, the main actions developed from 2019 to the present were presented, among which are reiterated scientific research, environmental education, economic activity associated with the characteristics of each reserve, sustainable tourism, and the linkage of communities to the protection of environment and biodiversity.

The challenges they face were also made known, ranging from road problems, capturing wildlife specimens for commercial purposes and soil erosion, to those derived from climate change, such as sea level rise, degraded ecosystems and landscapes, among others.

Taking advantage of the new post-COVID19 normality to face these challenges and promote greater interrelation, exchange of experiences, strengthening and cooperation between all reserves and their National Network was the manifest disposition by all participants and one of the main objectives met by the Workshop.

The MaB Programme has been a pioneering intergovernmental platform for scientific research and management on the combined nature conservation and the responsible use of natural resources. The World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR), one of its fundamental components, is currently made up of 727 sites in 131 Member States around the world, including 22 transboundary sites.

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