On June 9, the UNESCO added 20 new sites to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, bringing the total number of such sites worldwide to 651. According to the body, “Biosphere reserves are places for learning about sustainable development aiming to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources.” Seven of the new additions are in Asia, although none are in India. In all, nine Indian sites are already in the list.
Among them, Myanmar got its first site on the list this year. While they hold out lucrative tourism opportunities for the local governments that support them, declining funds and the effects of climate change make the reserves stories of conservation to emulate.
1. Langbiang biosphere reserve
The core area will create a biodiversity corridor, maintaining the integrity of 14 tropical ecosystems. It is also the habitat of many species of wildlife. Agriculture, forestry and the fishery sectors are the main sources of employment for the local communities. Flowers, coffee and tea are the most important – 5 – cultivated crops here, in terms of revenue.
2. Inle Lake
The wetland ecosystem of this freshwater lake is home to 267 species of birds, out of which 82 are wetland birds, 43 species of freshwater fishes, otters and turtles. Diverse flora and fauna species are recorded and the lake is reported to be the nesting place for the globally endangered Sarus crane (Grus antigone).
3. Aksu-Zhabagly biosphere reserve
It has 48% of the total diversity of birds in the region, and 72.5% of vertebrates. Land in the reserve is mostly used for agriculture, with a variety of crops: on the rain-fed area – cereal cultures (wheat and barley); on irrigated arable lands – forage cultures (corn, clover, alfalfa). Local people usually breed cattle, sheep (South-Kazakh Merino), goats, horses (trotters and Donskaya breed) and poultry (chicken and turkey). Aksu Zhabagly is one of the famous tourist spots for bird- watchers from all over the world
4. Tang-e-Sayad and Sabzkuh biosphere reserve
Land subsidence, geological activity and the melting ice caps have formed several wetlands in the area, home to rare fauna such as the wild cat and tiger snake. The Karun River, the biggest in Iran, supports 22 fish species, including pike and Mesopotamian catfish. During the cold season, the bushlands in the area are home to migratory birds such as the white stork and greater flamingo.
5. Taka Bonerate-Kepulauan Selayar
Mangrove forests serve as a barrier against the fierce ocean waves and hence as a shelter and spawning ground for various types of fish, as well as a habitat for many species of fauna such as birds. The national authorities aim to make this site the leading area in coral reef conservation and a major tourist destination in Sulawesi.
6. Bromo Tengger Semeru-Arjuno
There are 1,025 species of flora, including 226 orchid species along with 260 other medicinal and ornamental plant species. Several of the site’s mammal species are included on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The area is a model of good practice in terms of sustainable development at the regional, national and international levels.
It is described as representing an important part of the Taiga distributed in China. It protects the diversity of both forest and wetland ecosystems, extending over a total area of 148,948 hectares. The natural vegetation is intact, owing to very limited interaction with humankind. The cold temperate coniferous forest is the best-preserved forest type in China and is of high scientific value. Forest products from this site, such as bilberry and other wild fruit, contribute to the socio-economic development of the communities in the area.
Note: This article was corrected on July 10, 2015, to say that Myanmar, not Malaysia as had been stated earlier, got its first biosphere reserve on the UNESCO list this year.