Biosphere Reserves of India

Biosphere reserves are protected areas that aim to conserve and sustainably manage the biodiversity, ecosystems, and cultural heritage of a specific region. They serve as living laboratories for scientific research, monitoring, and education. Biosphere reserves are established under the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The program was launched in 1971 to promote interdisciplinary research, international cooperation, and sustainable development initiatives at the interface of people and nature.

History and Significance of Biosphere Reserves:

  1. The MAB Program: The MAB Program was initiated by UNESCO in 1971 in response to growing concerns about the impact of human activities on the environment and the loss of biodiversity. Its primary goal was to promote the conservation of natural resources while supporting socio-economic development.
  2. Biosphere Reserves Concept: The concept of biosphere reserves was introduced as part of the MAB Program. These reserves are designed to be multi-functional areas that demonstrate the harmonious coexistence of human activities and conservation. The idea was to establish zones within these reserves for core areas with minimal human intervention, buffer zones with limited human activity, and transition zones with sustainable development initiatives.
  3. International Cooperation: Biosphere reserves encourage international collaboration in research and conservation efforts. Many of these reserves span across national borders, fostering a global approach to environmental protection and management.

Establishment and Objectives:

Biosphere reserves are established through the following process:

  1. Nomination: Governments nominate areas with unique ecological, cultural, and biological characteristics as potential biosphere reserves.
  2. Evaluation: An expert team from UNESCO evaluates the nominated sites based on specific criteria, such as biodiversity value, ecological representativeness, cultural significance, and the potential for sustainable development.
  3. Designation: Upon meeting the criteria, UNESCO designates the area as a biosphere reserve, recognizing its global importance and value.

The main objectives of biosphere reserves are:

  1. Biodiversity Conservation: Biosphere reserves protect and conserve ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity, safeguarding natural resources and rare or endangered species.
  2. Sustainable Development: These reserves promote sustainable development by encouraging local communities to adopt eco-friendly practices, sustainable agriculture, and responsible tourism, thus ensuring a balance between conservation and human needs.
  3. Research and Education: Biosphere reserves serve as platforms for scientific research, environmental monitoring, and education, contributing to the understanding of ecological processes and the dissemination of knowledge.
  4. Cultural Preservation: Many biosphere reserves are home to indigenous communities with rich cultural heritage. The protection of their traditional knowledge and practices is an essential aspect of these reserves.

Biosphere reserves are typically divided into three zones, each with distinct characteristics and management objectives. These zones are designed to create a balance between conservation, sustainable development, and scientific research. The three zones are:

Core Zone (or Wilderness Zone):

  • Description: The core zone is the heart of the biosphere reserve and is designated for the strict conservation of biodiversity and natural ecosystems. It represents the most pristine and least disturbed areas within the reserve.
  • Characteristics: Human activities are limited or completely prohibited in this zone to minimize direct human impact on the environment. It serves as a refuge for rare and endangered species, allowing natural processes to occur without significant human interference.
  • Objectives: The primary goal of the core zone is to protect critical habitats, maintain ecological integrity, and preserve the genetic diversity of species. It acts as a reference area for studying natural ecological processes and evolution.
  • The core zone of a biosphere reserve, designated as a National Park or Sanctuary, is primarily governed by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Recognizing that some disturbances are inherent in natural ecosystem processes, the core zone is maintained as a pristine area, free from external human pressures or disturbances that could disrupt its ecological balance. 

Buffer Zone:

  • Description: The buffer zone surrounds the core zone and acts as a transitional area between the core zone and the outer human-dominated areas. It allows for limited human activity while promoting sustainable practices.
  • Characteristics: The buffer zone may include managed ecosystems, sustainable land use, and activities that do not compromise the conservation objectives of the core zone. It often contains agricultural land, community-managed areas, and eco-tourism facilities.
  • Objectives: The buffer zone aims to minimize human-wildlife conflicts, support sustainable resource use by local communities, and serve as a demonstration area for best practices in sustainable development. It acts as a protective barrier for the core zone.

Transition Zone (or Outer Zone):

  • Description: The transition zone encompasses the outermost region of the biosphere reserve and includes human settlements, agricultural lands, and areas of industrial or urban development.
  • Characteristics: This zone experiences the most intensive human activities and development. It includes villages, towns, and economic activities such as farming, forestry, and industry.
  • Objectives: The transition zone focuses on sustainable development and the integration of conservation principles into human land use and resource management. It seeks to promote environmental awareness and the adoption of sustainable practices among local communities and stakeholders.

Biosphere Reserves of India

S. No. Name of BSR Date of Notification Location (State)
1 Nilgiri BSR 01.09.1986 Part of Wayanad, Nagarhole, Bandipur and Madumalai, Nilambur, Silent Valley and Siruvani hills (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka).
2 Nanda Devi 18.01.1988 Chamoli, Pithoragarh, and Bageshwar districts (Uttarakhand).
3 Nokrek 01.09.1988 Garo Hills (Meghalaya).
4 Great Nicobar 06.01.1989 Southernmost islands of Andaman And Nicobar (A&N Islands).
5 Gulf of Mannar 18.02.1989 Indian part of the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka (Tamil Nadu).
6 Manas 14.03.1989 Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamprup, and Darang districts (Assam)
7 Sunderbans 29.03.1989 Part of the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river system  (West Bengal).
8 Simlipal 21.06.1994 Mayurbhanj district (Odisha).
9 Dibru-Saikhowa 28.07.1997 Dibrugarh and Tinsukia Districts (Assam)
10 Dehang-Dibang 02.09.1998 Siang and Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.
11 Pachmarhi 03.03.1999 Betul, Hoshangabad, and Chindwara districts of Madhya Pradesh.
12 Khangchendzonga 07.02.2000 Khangchendzonga hills in Sikkim.
13 Agasthyamalai 12.11.2001 Thirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, and Pathanamthitta districts in Kerala.
14 Achanakamar –    Amarkantak 30.3.2005 Anupur and Dindori districts of M.P. and parts of Bilaspur districts of Chhattisgarh State.
15 Kachchh 29.01.2008 Kachchh, Rajkot, Surendra Nagar, and Patan Civil Districts of Gujarat State
16 Cold Desert 28.08.2009 Pin Valley National Park and surroundings; Chandratal and Sarchu&Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh 
17 Seshachalam Hills 20.09.2010 Seshachalam Hill Ranges covering parts of Chittoor and Kadapa districts of Andhra Pradesh 
18 Panna 25.08.2011 Part of Panna and Chhattarpur districts in Madhya Pradesh

International Status of Biosphere Reserves

The international status of Biosphere Reserves (BR) is conferred by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program is responsible for designating and overseeing biosphere reserves worldwide. 

The MAB Program was launched in 1971 to promote interdisciplinary research, international cooperation, and sustainable development at the interface of people and nature.

Some key points regarding the international status of Biosphere Reserves:

  1. UNESCO Designation: Biosphere Reserves are internationally recognized and designated by UNESCO. The process of designation involves a rigorous evaluation of nominated areas based on specific criteria related to ecological, biological, cultural, and socio-economic factors.
  2. Global Network: Biosphere Reserves form a global network of protected areas that aim to conserve biodiversity, promote sustainable development, and foster scientific research and education. As of my last update in September 2021, there were over 700 designated biosphere reserves across more than 120 countries.
  3. Transboundary Reserves: Some biosphere reserves span across national borders, promoting international cooperation and collaboration in conservation efforts. Transboundary reserves are instrumental in addressing shared environmental challenges and fostering a sense of global responsibility for the environment.
  4. Knowledge Sharing: The international status of Biosphere Reserves encourages knowledge exchange and collaboration between different countries and regions. Scientists, researchers, and conservationists from around the world can collaborate on research projects and share best practices in sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.
  5. Global Recognition: The UNESCO designation brings global recognition to the ecological and cultural significance of the designated areas. It highlights the importance of these regions in terms of biodiversity conservation, ecological research, and sustainable development.
  6. World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR): The UNESCO MAB Program maintains the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR), which serves as a platform for information exchange, capacity building, and cooperation among the designated reserves. The WNBR facilitates the sharing of experiences and lessons learned to improve conservation strategies and promote sustainable development.
  7. Monitoring and Evaluation: UNESCO, through the MAB Program, plays a crucial role in monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of biosphere reserves in achieving their conservation and sustainable development objectives. Regular assessments ensure that the reserves maintain their status as internationally recognized sites for conservation and research.
  8. India also has 12 internationally recognized Biosphere Reserves. They are: 
  1. Nilgiri
  2. Gulf of Mannar
  3. Sunderban
  4. Nanda Devi
  5. Nokrek
  6. Pachmarhi
  7. Similipal
  8. Achanakmar-Amarkantak
  9. Great Nicobar
  10. Agasthyamala
  11. Khangchendzonga
  12. Panna

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