Twenty new Biosphere Reserves have been declared by UNESCO this month, five of which are in Africa. Monts de Tlemcen in Algeria, Lake Bosomtwe in Ghana, Belo-sur-Mer—Kirindy-Mitea in Madagascar, and Jozani-Chwaka Bay in Tanzania, join 664 other Biosphere Reserves around the world as part of the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MaB). MaB that was created by UNESCO in the early 1970s as an intergovernmental scientific endeavour to improve relations between people around the world and their natural environment.
Biosphere reserves are places for learning about sustainable development aiming to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources. New reserves are designated each year by the International Co-ordinating Council of the Programme, which brings together elected representatives of 34 UNESCO Member States.
The following sites in Africa joined the network this year:
Monts de Tlemcen (Algeria)
The 98,532 ha reserve is situated in the Province of Tlemcen, an area of great biodiversity, which also has major archaeological sites, cultural landscapes and caves and covers the same area as the Tlemcen National Park.
Lake Bosomtwe (Ghana)
Situated in the Ashanti region of Ghana, Bosomtwe comprises one of six meteoritic lakes in the world. The southernmost section of the site overlaps with the northern section of the Bosomtwe Range Forest Reserve creating a combination of forest, wetland and mountain ecosystems. The biosphere reserve sustains 35 tree species, including some used for timber. The site is also home to a great diversity of wildlife and to a human population of over 50,000 inhabitants whose main economic activities are farming, fishing and tourism as the lake is a major national tourist destination. The area is widely used for research focusing primarily on climate change, as well as environmental education for schools and universities.
Situated on the western coast of the island, the site includes watershed upstream and marine and coastal ecosystems downstream. It presents a mosaic of rich but fragile ecosystems such as dry forests, thickets, thorn forests, savannahs, salty swampy depressions known as “tannes”, mangroves and coral reefs. The reef is a feeding area of spectacular marine megafauna of whales (humpback), dolphins, dugongs and marine turtles. People in the area rely on these natural resources for their livelihood and income. The site’s marine biodiversity, islands and two sacred salted lakes that are home to the Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor), are valuable assets for tourism. Aquaculture, pelagic fishing and salt production complement the development potential of the biosphere reserve.
Atlas Cedar (Morocco)
Situated in the central Atlas Mountains, the biosphere reserve is home to 75% of the world’s majestic Atlas cedar tree population. This part of the Atlas Mountains is rich in ecosystems and its peaks, reaching up to 3,700 metres, provide the region with critically important water resources. Fruit plantations, modern agriculture and tourist activities, which have replaced semi-nomadic pastoral traditions, are taking their toll on scarce water resources. The rich local Berber culture is particularly strong in this area.
Jozani-Chwaka Bay (Tanzania)
The biosphere reserve encompasses the only national park on the island of Zanzibar. Its landscape consists of mosaics of mangroves, tropical forests and coral rug forests as well as groundwater, salt marshes, and both agricultural and residential areas. The site is a biodiversity hotspot area including inter alia reef fish species, dolphins, the Zanzibar leopard (Panther pardus adersi), 168 species of birds including 30 of global and regional relevance. The site’s 291 known plant species include 21 considered to be threatened. Inhabitants mainly live from activities relating to tourism, fishing, bee keeping, butterfly rearing and crab fattening