A biosphere reserve is conservation reserve developed to protect the cultural and biological diversity of a specific region while also promoting sustainable development. It is a unique place that fosters education, experimentation, and cooperation, in which managers and scientists share critical research data in an effort to better understand the impact of humans on nature and how environmental groups and communities can work together in a collaborative effort on conservation issues.
These reserves are set-up under the sponsorship of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program. The mission of the program, which was established in 1974, is to strike a balance between the often conflicting goals of promoting economic development and biological conservation. This objective is put to the test and refined at reserves around the world.
In order to earn the biosphere reserve designation, a national government must nominate an ecosystem and it must be granted approval from UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program. To satisfy the program requirements, every reserve must have three elements.
Core Areas – These areas are protected and secure sites for the conservation of biological diversity, the constant monitoring of relatively undisturbed ecosystems, the performance of highly-sensitive research, and low-impact education.
Buffer Zones – These clearly identified areas typically adjoin or surround the Core Areas. Buffer Zones can also be used for ecological activities, including recreation, environmental education, research, and ecotourism.
Cooperation or Transition Zones – These areas can include farms, towns, fisheries, and other activities. They are also the areas used by local communities, scientists, management agencies, cultural groups, non-governmental organizations, and others to cooperatively manage and develop the area’s resources in a sustainable manner.
Zones are flexibly designed and can be implemented in a number of ways to address the specific needs of a local area. In the U.S., the majority of the 47 reserves include national parks within the core area, which are surrounded by managed transition and buffer zones. Biosphere reserves in the U.S. include the Everglades, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, the Mojave Desert, and many others. In total, there are 368 reserves in 91 countries around the world.
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