Biosphere Reserves

What is a biosphere reserve?

Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Biosphere reserves serve in some ways as 'living laboratories' for testing out and demonstrating integrated management of land, water and biodiversity. Collectively, biosphere reserves form a World Network. Within this network, exchanges of information, experiences and personnel are facilitated. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was created on November 16, 1945, with the mandate to «Contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science and culture».

In 1968, UNESCO organized the “Biosphere Conference” which was the beginning of the concept of a Biosphere Reserve. This was the 1st intergovernmental conference examining how to reconcile the conservation and use of natural resources, thereby foreshadowing the present-day notion of sustainable development. This conference resulted in the launching of the UNESCO "Man and the Biosphere" (MAB) Programme in 1970. One of the original MAB projects consisted in establishing a coordinated World Network of sites representing the main ecosystems of the planet in which genetic resources would be protected, and where research on ecosystems as well as monitoring and training work could be carried out. These sites were named as "Biosphere Reserves", in reference to the MAB programme itself.

The Man and Biosphere Program recognizes areas that are : typical of the world’s major terrestrial or coastal ecosystems ; demonstrate innovative approaches to living and working in harmony with nature ; demonstrate how to achieve a sustainable balance between conserving natural ecosystems and biodiversity and fostering sound economic development.

In the world, there are 529 Biosphere Reserves in 105 countries. In Canada, there are 15 biosphere reserves in 8 provinces.


Each Biosphere Site is intended to fulfill three complementary and mutually reinforcing functions:

A conservation function - to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species, and genetic variation.

A development function - to foster economic and human development that is socially, culturally and ecologically sustainable.

A support function - to create a support network of scientists, resource managers and policy makers to assist communities and resource sectors address sustainability issues and concerns.


The biosphere, or sphere of life, is the living layer of the earth, where water flows, plants grow and people live. Biosphere Reserves have specific geographical boundaries and may be completely inland, along the coast or defined by the borders of their natural watersheds. The area of land within a biosphere reserve varies greatly, but is always made up of three basic ‘zones’: the core, the buffer, and the transition.

  • The Core Area is a long term protected area and it acts as a reference point. This area is indicative of the Biosphere Reserve;
  • The Buffer Zone surrounding or adjacent to the Core Area. It is managed in ways that support the conservation objectives of the Core Area;
  • The Transition Area, acts as an area of cooperation. Resources are utilized and managed in a sustainable manner to generate revenues.