An Environmentally Sustainable Future for the Marlborough Sounds



What is a Biosphere Reserve?

A Biosphere Reserve is an international designation given by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) under its Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB). There are currently 610 Biosphere Reserves listed around the world in 117 countries (although as yet New Zealand remains one of the few first world nations that still has none). The first Biosphere Reserve was listed in 1976.

Biosphere Reserves are about developing quality economies based on local community action and entrepreneurship, sound science, public-private sector partnerships and networking.

Biosphere Reserves are about Man living in the environment sustainably and each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfill three complementary functions:

  • a conservation function – to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation
  • a development function – to foster ecologically sustainable human and economic development
  • a logistic function – to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.

Biosphere reserves generally have three zones to assist the above functions, namely: Core areas (e.g. National or Marine Parks or Reserves), Buffer Zones and Transition Areas:

  • Core areas:
    Securely protected sites for conserving biological diversity, monitoring minimally disturbed ecosystems, and undertaking non-destructive research and other low-impact uses, such as Long Island Marine Reserve in the Sounds.
  • Buffer zones:
    Usually surround or adjoin the core areas, and are managed in ways that support the conservation objectives of the core areas, including environmental education, recreation, ecotourism, and applied and basic research.
  • Transition areas:
    Areas with a central function in sustainable development which may contain a variety of agricultural, forestry, viticulture, aquaculture, biotech and tourism activities etc, settlements and other uses and in which local communities, management agencies, scientists, non-governmental organizations, cultural groups, economic interests and other stakeholders work together to manage and sustainably develop the area’s resources.

From this, we can see then that a Biosphere Reserve is not intended to be or about locking up an overall area, so that it can only be used for conservation purposes or reducing farming activity or limiting economic development or prosperity. They are essentially sites of excellence to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development.

What are the benefits of Biosphere Reserves?

The Biosphere Reserve concept can be used as a framework to guide and reinforce projects to enhance people’s livelihoods and ensure environmental sustainability. In other words, they are a means of helping the local economy, without destroying the natural environment.

Examples of benefits include:

  • increased capacity to securing national and international funding for projects
  • raising public awareness of environmental issues, via interpretation centres, education facilities and campaigns etc
  • increased international networking and cooperation
  • potential for branding of local Biosphere Reserve produce to provide competitive advantage, including locally produced and serviced food and products, ecotourism and business accreditation schemes.

Upon designation, UNESCO also encourages biosphere reserves to twin and foster with other biospheres with similar features around the world, in order to strengthen the tourism, scientific, economic and social potential of each region.

In Conclusion

Biosphere reserves are designed to achieve a sustainable balance between the often conflicting goals of conserving biodiversity, promoting development and maintaining cultural values. Biosphere reserves are sites where this objective is tested, refined, demonstrated and implemented.

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