FAQs

Biosphere: The biosphere is made up of a variety of the world’s ecosystems and spans the land, water and atmosphere which support all life on this planet.

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Biosphere reserve: A biosphere reserve designation signals international recognition that meaningful actions, with measurable outcomes, are being taken to balance conservation initiatives with sustainable development. An area can only be designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. To become part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, individual countries nominate areas which they believe meet the requirements of a biosphere reserve. Land must already have been set aside for conservation within the area under consideration. Over 109 countries now participate in UNESCO/MAB. Canada has been involved through the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and Canada/MAB since the beginning. For further information on the activities of our Canadian biosphere reserve partners, go to the biosphere reserve activities section.

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Sustainable development: The principle of sustainable development is crucial to the long-term success of biosphere reserves. Worldwide, biosphere reserves are engaged in activities to balance the conservation of the landscapes that support quality of life with responsible use of the ecosystem services that sustain livelihoods. Three central pillars of sustainable development are:

  1. the economy
  2. the environment
  3. culture and society

For more information, see the UNESCO definition of sustainable development , the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development and the description of biosphere reserve activities.

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Park or biosphere reserve? Parks and biosphere reserves are both types of protected areas, and their mandate is to conserve ecosystems and native biodiversity. The difference lies in the use of community-based efforts to manage, and where necessary, restore land and other resources to promote stable and sustainable economic activities. Biosphere reserves secure access to ecosystem services and promote sustainable development for the well being of people, the economy and the environment. National and provincial parks balance conservation with carefully monitored recreational uses and tend to be distributed in, and limited to, specific ecoregions. Also referred to as bioregions, ecoregions are ecologically and geographically defined regions that host biodiversity which is confined or distinct within their limits. Biosphere reserves, however, occur wherever an area has conservation value and the surrounding community has pledged to protect biodiversity, cultural heritage and uphold the principles of sustainable development.For more info rmation on parks, please visit the Parks Canada website and see the Atlas of Canada – Protected Areas.

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Size: There are no specific size requirements for biosphere reserves and in fact they vary considerably in size. Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve is one of Canada’s larger biosphere reserves and Mont Saint-Hilaire Biosphere Reserve is one of the smaller.  Above all, the three land use zones must be large enough and sited so as to protect biodiversity and ecosystem functions within the core areas and cushion land use in the cooperation areas. The size of the zones and the reserve as a whole may also be limited by the complexity of how local institutions and their jurisdictions may overlap.

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Number of reserves: There are currently 564 biosphere reserves in 109 countries. 16 of these are in Canada, in eight provinces. The UNESCO website provides an up-to date listing of all the biosphere reserves in the world.

Organizational structure: UNESCO does not have any set requirements about how biosphere reserves should be organized at the local level. In Canada, each biosphere reserve has its own organizational structure, which is community-based and cross-representational. Most Canadian biosphere reserves are incorporated as non-profit organizations, some with charitable status. Some work, at least initially, through a steering committee with stakeholder representation. Biosphere reserve program activities are decided locally, but some can be linked to national or international programs. CBRA can help match existing programs and projects to the needs of biosphere reserves and their human communities.

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