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What is a biosphere reserve area?

Published:Monday | January 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Biosphere reserves are areas globally recognised under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme because they demonstrate innovative approaches to living and working in harmony with nature by integrating economic development and environmental protection.

They are proposed by their residents, ratified by a national committee, and designated by UNESCO's (MAB) programme. One of the primary objectives of MAB is to achieve a sustainable balance between the goals of conserving biological diversity, promoting economic development, and maintaining associated cultural values. In a biosphere reserve the arrangements to support development are based on consensus, rather than legal arrangements.

The term 'biosphere' refers to all of the land, water and atmosphere that supply life on earth. The word 'reserve' means that it is a special area recognised for balancing conservation with sustainable use. The term 'reserve' does not mean that these places are set aside from human use and development.

close relationships

The Portland Bight Protected Area was selected by Jamaica's Man and the Biosphere Committee as a proposed biosphere reserve because of the close relationships between people's livelihoods and the natural environment in the area. The boundaries are the same as the Portland Bight Protected Area and include legally declared core zones, buffer zones and transition zones.

The objective of the core zones is to provide comprehensive long-term protection to key areas as necessary to ensure the survival of threatened and economically important biodiversity. The proposed core zones are the fish sanctuaries (special fisheries conservation areas). Buffer zones surround the core zones or are adjacent to them. Only compatible activities can take place in them. The buffer zones for Portland Bight are the forest reserves. The rest of a biosphere reserve is the transition zone where sustainable resource management practices are promoted and developed.

The forests, wetlands, seagrass beds and coral reefs of the Portland Bight Protect Area produce free services which support the livelihoods of more than 4,000 people in the area. It includes the only habitat for the Jamaican Iguana - one of the hundred most endangered species in the world - and many other globally threatened species, and has great potential for sustainable development, including ecotourism.

Portland Bight is one of the most protected areas in Jamaica, including three fish sanctuaries, two forest reserves and four game reserves. It includes the Portland Bight Wetlands and Cays which is a Ramsar site - an area globally recognised because of the importance of its wetlands. Portland Bight has also been proposed as the location for a new Chinese container shipping port and associated developments.