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Biosphere Reserves


What are Biosphere Reserves?

Biosphere reserves are ‘learning places for sustainable development’. They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity. They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges. Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.

Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Biosphere Reserves are designated under the intergovernmental MAB Programme by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB International Coordinating Council (MAB ICC). Their status is internationally recognized. Member States can submit sites through the designation process.

In order to assist the stakeholders with the designation process, as well as periodic reviews, Technical Guidelines are being progressively created by the MAB International Co-ordinating Council.

What is the World Network of Biosphere Reserves?

The WNBR consists of a dynamic and interactive network of sites of excellence. It promotes North-South, South-South and South-North-South collaboration and represents a unique tool for international cooperation through the exchange of experiences and know-how, capacity-building and the promotion of best practices among Biosphere Reserves.

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Biosphere Reserves involve local communities and all interested stakeholders in planning and management. They integrate three main "functions":

  • Conservation of biodiversity and cultural diversity
  • Economic development that is socio-culturally and environmentally sustainable
  • Logistic support, underpinning development through research, monitoring, education and training

These three functions are pursued through the Biosphere Reserves' three main zones

Core Areas

It comprises a strictly protected zone that contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation

Buffer Zones

It surrounds or adjoins the core area(s), and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training and education.

Transition Area

The transition area is where communities foster socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable economic and human activities.


Fact Sheet

  • The World Network of Biosphere Reserves covers all major representative natural and semi-natural ecosystems
  • It spans over a surface of 6,812,000 km2 in 124 countries. It's almost the size of Australia.
  • There are about 257 million people living in Biosphere Reserves worldwide


Download the 2019-2020 map of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves

Biosphere Reserves in Practice

Biosphere reserves harmonize conservation of biological and cultural diversity, and economic and social development, through partnerships between people and nature. They also contribute to the transition to green societies by experimenting with green development options such as sustainable tourism and training for eco-jobs. Below you will find a list of success stories and good practices in different Biosphere Reserves around the world.

Russian Federation: Solar energy to supply the electricity needs in the Altaisky biosphere reserve

The new power station in the Altaisky biosphere reserve, the only one to use solar energy in the country and supplies a large village with electricity 24 hours a day.

In English


Slovenia: Learning Sustainable Behaviour in the Škocjan Caves BR

Within the Škocjan Caves Park School Network, twelve to fourteen year old secondary school students from Slovenia and Italy explore research topics related to the Reka River, one of the largest sinking rivers in the world.

In English / French / Spanish


Brazil: Putting a Price on Conservation in the Serra do Espinhaço BR

On how the Serra do Espinhaço Biosphere Reserve (Brazil) is rewarding municipalities which protect biodiversity and ecosystems in the world’s most intensely mined biosphere reserve.

In English / French / Spanish


South Africa: Promoting Environmental and Human Wellbeing in the Cape West Coast BR

In a country where environment and agriculture are not taught formally as subjects in schools, a teacher from South Africa’s West Cape Region finds himself teaching these subjects to learners who are very willing to learn.

In English / French / Spanish


Jordan: Striving for a Better Tomorrow in the Mujib BR

The jobs created by the reserve since its establishment in 1985 mark the first time in generations that many local residents have been afforded viable economic opportunities that are also sustainable.

In English / French / Spanish


Viet Nam: Rebirth of a Hunter in the Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve

The story about a hunter who is haunted by the killing of Cat Ba langurs, one of the rarest primates in the world. Mr Vu Huu Tinh, a former logger cum hunter in Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve in Hai Phong (Viet Nam), has been reborn as a ‘people’s forest ranger.’

In English


Forty Years of Field Laboratories in Sustainability

Tracing the history of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme and its World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

In English / French / Russian / Spanish


Mexico: Educate for Conservation in the Sierra Gorda BR

Since its foundation 25 years ago, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda I.A.P. (GESG) has been raising awareness among the population about their surroundings and natural resources.

In English / French / Spanish


South Africa: The Bushbruckridge Healer’s Path to Justice in the Kruger to Canyons BR

How traditional healers in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve in South Africa will benefit from a revolution in environmental law due to be adopted by the United Nations.

In Arabic / English / French / Russian / Spanish


Cambodia: Environmental Education in Action in the Tonle Sap BR

Environmental education in the BR was initiated in 2000 when Osmose, a not‐for‐profit association, realised there was an increase in the child population and that education was therefore needed in order to protect their natural resources.

In English / French / Spanish


Kenya and the UK: Sea-Level Rise in Malindi Watamu and Braunton Burrows–North Devon BRs

The communities of Malindi Watamu and North Devon decided to engage in an experiment. By twinning their biosphere reserves, they hope to learn from one another how best to adapt to their changing world.

In Arabic / English / French / Russian / Spanish


Honduras and Nicaragua: Mayangna Knowledge Deep in the Heart of the Rio Platano and Boswas BRs

This indigenous people’s struggle to protect one of the last extensive areas of Central American tropical rainforest, in the Boswas and Rio Platano Biosphere Reserves in Nicaragua and Honduras respectively.

In Arabic / English / French / Russian / Spanish


Germany: Rhön BR's Gastronomical Ambassadors

How the Rhön Biosphere Reserve in Germany  has turned the art of local gastronomy into a socio-economic success.

In Arabic / English / French / Russian / Spanish


Sudan: Saving the Remaining Wildlife in the Radom BR

Man in Sudan with his donkey

How a survey of the rapidly vanishing wildlife in Radom Biosphere Reserve, the victim of the proliferation of automatic weapons and refugees as a result of the armed conflict in Sudan.

In English / French / Russian / Spanish


Egypt: Using the Sun to Quench the Thirst in the Omayed BR

How a project in Omayed Biosphere Reserve in Egypt makes life more pleasant.

In English / French / Russian / Spanish


Taking the Temperature of Mountains

On a project to monitor climate change and other forms of global change in selected biosphere reserves in mountainous regions.

In English / French / Spanish

BiosphereSmart: sharing knowledge on climate change, green economies, and sustainable development

Interactive Mapping Tool for Biosphere Reserves

BiosphereSmart is a global observatory created to share ideas, knowledge, good practices, and experiences among Biosphere Reserves on issues related to climate change, green economies, and sustainable development.
The BiosphereSmart Initiative is based on the idea to maximise the use of new information technologies to build a covenant for a sustainable future and a transition to green societies based on knowledge. Citizens become both beneficiaries and key actors of the information and participation tools of the project. They can also be sensors able to provide information about their spatial experiences, improving their capacity of participation.

Biosphere Smart provides this web-based platform with the aim of: 



  • Sharing ideas and best practices on issues related to sustainable development and climate change;
  • Sharing experience and lessons in using biosphere reserves as green economy models;
  • Promoting sustainable urban futures issues within biosphere reserves and their surroundings;
  • Providing an educational tool with mapping and advanced communication services;
  • Empowering sustainable communities to improve their access to information and decision-making capacity;
  • Improving  information and response capacity for managers and scientific community in biosphere reserves;
  • Share and facilitate access to the knowledge and expertise of the scientific community;
  • Strengthen partnerships within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).

The BiosphereSmart Initiative was launched during the 24th Session of the International Co-ordinating Council (ICC) of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme (2012), which highlighted the "need of the MAB Programme and its networks to be a substantial tool for the implementation of the Rio+20 follow up and for this purpose on the need for the improvement of the communication by using tools like Biosphere SMART on green economies and by using biosphere reserves as study sites for all UNESCO Programmes".

⇒ BiosphereSmart Initiative website