Why a Biosphere Reserve?

Exploitation of the earth’s resources became excessive, specially in the last 60 years of the twentieth century: more lumber for construction; more oil, gas and coal to produce energy; more water and more energy to manufacture millions of articles and products that man considered necessary to live comfortably on this planet; more iron, copper, nickel, sand. The same time, the population has grown impressively: we went from 2.500 millions in 1950 to 6.300 millions in 2001. As a result of that, our home, the Earth, has been affected and is in such a state of deterioration that the very survival of man is at stake, because of the lack of vital resources, like water.

In a situation like this, biosphere reserves are a welcomed alternative to teach man to use the natural resources he has rationally, so that he can reach economical growth without damaging, wasting or depleting what nature has to offer him. Biosphere reserves are an opportunity to leave lighter and cleaner footprints on our journey through Earth.

From 2000, the West Coast stretching from the Milnerton Diep River in the South to the Berg River in the North became a Biosphere Reserve; this new status requires us that live here and those that visit to participate actively in the process to reach the objectives that all BR must fulfill.

Where does the concept of Biosphere Reserves come from?
MAB (Man and the Biosphere)

The worries of modern societies with the deterioration of the environment and the unsustainable use of resources go back some years. About the middle of the eighteenth century a few people began calling the attention of others toward the need to conserve the forests and wildlife in the United States; they met with success. But at the beginning of the twentieth century, the matter got the attention of a few rulers and laws were drawn that promoted conservation.

However, it wasn’t until about the middle of the twentieth century that groups and movements were organized that demanded that governments give more protection to the environment and natural resources. These groups, that at the beginning focused on local environmental problems, grew stronger and many of them went beyond the borders of the countries where they started, and became important nongovernmental organizations with branches in several countries.

The protests of these groups, combined with environmental disasters – that were now being recorded by the press- and the results of scientific investigations on contamination, extinction of species and its effects, began to convince rulers and international organizations, like the United Nations, of the need to pay more attention to the environment.

The program “ Man and the Biosphere (MAB), from UNESCO, is a result of the growing interest in environmental affairs. MAB was created in 1968, during the conference on Conservation and the Rational Use of the Natural Resources of the Biosphere, organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and The World Conservation Union (IUCN) participated in this conference.

MAB began to function officially in November of 1971 and was endorsed in 1972 by the United Nations Conference on Human Environment. In 1974, a team from the program came up with the concept of Biosphere Reserve, and in 1976 the World Net of Biosphere Reserves was created; by the end of 2001 it had 411 BR in more than 90 countries.

At first the MAB directed its effort toward investigations in natural and social sciences, which included the participation of human population in its projects of conservation of areas and of natural resources. Though, its three basic functions have always been conservation, development and logistical support, up until then the BR were not much different from a natural park.

Then, in 1995 during the International Conference on Biosphere Reserves- held in Seville, Spain – the Seville Strategy was developed; it promotes total fulfillment of the MAB’s three functions, making clear that the mission of the reserves is to balance the conservation of natural resources with economic growth, always involving the local community and government.
MAB is:
 An international program of investigation applied to the interaction between man and his environment.
 An effort of international cooperation to promote sustainable development.
 A source of scientific knowledge needed by those in charge of managing the natural resources.
 A collective effort by scientists, planners, administrators and local population.
 An effort of education and formation linked to projects of investigation on the field.

What are Biosphere Reserves?

A new dawn
Biosphere reserves are territories with beautiful landscapes, a considerable abundance of species of fauna and flora, its own and unique culture, where harmony between development and the natural surrounding is promoted. They are like specific areas where models of sustainable development, that seek better living conditions based on environmental principles, are tried and proven.

Biosphere reserves have three basic functions:
 Conservation: to protect the natural resources (water, air, land, sand, fishes, etc.), ecosystems (reefs, fynbos), biological abundance (flora and fauna), landscapes and the local culture.
 Development: to protect social and economical progress, without damaging or depleting the natural resources (sustainable development).
 Logistical Support: to promote education, investigation, and permanent observation related to the environment and natural resources.

Benefits of the BR
The benefits that being a BR can generate are:
 Expansion of the economy through new jobs. The possibilities of new ways of tourism (eco and cultural-tourism for example) and opportunity to create new micro and small enterprises (raising animals, agricultural, tourist services, etc.) to directly benefit the local community.
 Better opportunities for education. Since BR’s are world centres for education, investigation and environment monitoring, the local community would have access to technical and advanced training. New careers and jobs would be created and there would be scholarships to study in different parts of the world.
 Recovery and preservation of local culture. UNESCO and United Nations (UN) insist that one of the MAB’s principal goals is to respect and protect autochthonous cultures. The program would help the local community to protect and preserve its identity and traditions.
 Protection of natural resources and the environment
 Promotion of sustainable development
 Recover traditional economy. The local community would be encouraged to recover traditional ways of making a living, like agriculture, fishing, raising small animals, building boats and cottage industries, and it would receive training in the management of new methods and technology.
 Affiliation to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Participation in the network would allow the community to have access to technical information, training, human and financial support on an international level.
Being a biosphere reserve is a big responsibility for the local community, because obtaining the benefits depends on their participation and management. The planet has more than 6.000 million inhabitants that maintain a constantly growing pressure on its resources to satisfy the need for water, food and economic development. Our environment is desperately short of water, fertile agricultural land and indigenous vegetation.  If the community of the West Coast commits him and herself to enforce the alternatives the BR offers, it can show the world that it is possible to stop the deterioration that affects our very livelihoods. And that would be the greatest of all the benefits

What is Sustainable development?
It’s the development that satisfies the needs of those of us that inhabit the planet today, without compromising the capacity of future generations to satisfy theirs. It’s an alternative to face this crisis that this actual type of development, that seeks economical progress at all cost, has generated. This means that, while the model of development that we have uses natural resources uncontrolled and excessively, to reach economic growth, sustainable development seeks the same economic progress, but controlling the use of resources.

But sustainable development isn’t only interested in a more balanced use of the natural resources; its also interested in a better distribution of benefits generated by development and more participation of the people in the making of decisions that will affect them. This makes sustainable development the way to a more just, balanced society, with less difference between rich and poor.

Its not an easy road, because there are many and great obstacles to defeat, but the interest some countries are showing and the successful experiments that have taken place in other parts of the planet, indicate that sustainable development is making way as the only alternative that mankind has for a future without worries.

Sustainability in few words
 Sustainable development seeks a better life for all of us that live o the planet without using more natural resources than the environment can produce.
 To obtain sustainable development it’s necessary that communities, governments and institutions work as teams.
 There is not one model of sustainable development. This changes according to the needs and resources of each community.
 Sustainable development is not against technology; the contrary is true, it’s in favor of a technology that doesn’t affect the environment. These are called clean technologies, because they contaminate less than the technologies that are actually used massively in the manufacture of products of all kind and the exploitation of natural resources.

What are practical Steps for Us to obtain it?
1. Recognize that development and the environment are related.
2. Use energy more efficiently and make use of sources of renewable energy (solar and wind).
3. Train farmers and communities about possible alternative uses of their environment that might even be more profitable.
4. Plant indigenous vegetation in your gardens – these are most suited to our environment and utilize less water.
5. Eliminate poverty by helping the poor to make a living without damaging the environment.
6. Fine individuals and industries that contaminate water.
7. Support national and local plans for waste management.
8. Adopt safer and cleaner production methods.
9. Change the modality of excessive consumption.

In our daily lives we have numerous necessities to satisfy, and sometimes they are in direct conflict with one another. For example we need to breathe clean air, but we need a vehicle to move around too. How to keep the air pure when the vehicle emits contaminating gases in the atmosphere? Sustainable development will satisfy both needs by promoting the use of less contaminating fuels or energy like biogas or solar energy.

The Smart Living Handbook produced by the City of Cape Town has some excellent information and practical steps for making sustainable development a reality in our homes.
How do we Manage our Biosphere Reserve?
With a Strategic/Management Plan
What is the Management Plan?

The Strategic Plan sets out the vision of the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve Company for conserving biodiversity and stimulating sustainable development within the CWCBR over the long term, with the next five years as the first operational phase.  It does so at a broad strategic level and does not deal with detailed issues.  The Strategic plan is one element within the management framework for the CWCBR Company and links directly to the Business Plan.

What are its objectives?

The goals (and objectives) articulated at the stakeholder workshops were grouped into common themes and developed into the following goals:

1. To ensure effective, participatory and adaptive management of the CWCBR

2. To develop a high profile biosphere reserve with environmentally aware and informed stakeholders

3. To contribute towards furthering sustainable development in the biosphere reserve

4. To contribute towards understanding of the unique assets of the biosphere reserve

5. To contribute to coherent planning at all levels within the area

6. To contribute to the conservation of the unique assets of the biosphere reserve

Visions and Goals

The vision for the Biosphere Reserve set out in the Strategic Plan is based on inputs by the Board, stakeholders, and UNESCO documentation.

The vision of the CWCBR is articulated as:

We see the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve as the best international example of integrating rapid growth and change with biodiversity conservation, sustainable living and heritage preservation.

As part of the Strategic Planning process, thirteen goals were developed, drawing on inputs from stakeholders, the Board and UNESCO.  The goals of the SP fall into five categories, or themes.  These are further divided into two broad groups, namely operational and programmatic goals.  The former relate principally to the functioning of the Company, while the latter define the work of the Company.

Table 1:  Themes and Goals




  1. To conserve, maintain and rehabilitate biodiversity in the BR
  1. To conserve non-renewable resources
  1. To maintain the palaeontological, historical and cultural heritage of the BR
  Sustainable Development & Planning
  1. To contribute to enhancing the sustainable economic well-being of communities
  1. To contribute to coherent planning at all levels to provide models of land management
  1. To adopt the precautionary principle to development in the region
Stakeholder support
  1. To seek stakeholder and community support for the BR
  1. To develop a high profile BR
Research & monitoring
  1. To comprehend and understand change in the region
Education & capacity
  1. To provide education, awareness building and training to further community and stakeholder knowledge


  Operational & institutional
  1. To secure adequate initial and ongoing management resources for the BR
  1. To ensure effective, participatory and adaptive management
  1. To coordinate with national and international networks

Ten of these are high-level goals that will take time to achieve.  Biodiversity needs to be conserved in perpetuity and sustainability is a long-term goal.

Biosphere Reserves have different management zones – What are these and what are the implications to me living in the Area?

Zonation: A strategy for sustainability
All biosphere reserves must have three types of zones:
 The Core Zone (RED)
 The Buffer Zone (GREEN)
 The Transitional Zone (BROWN)

Each one of these zones has special characteristics and its objective is to help biosphere reserves comply with their functions of conservation, logistic support and the promotion of sustainable development.

To understand zonation better lets take our houses as examples. Each house has different zones or areas that are distinguished by what we do in each of them: hall, dining room, bathroom, bedrooms, and kitchen. Each one of these zones has their own elements (beds in the bedroom, stoves and refrigerators in the kitchen, tables and chairs in the dining room, etc.) and their own functions. For example, we eat in the dining room, not in the bathroom; we bathe in the bathroom, not in the hall and so on, for each zone in the house there are specific rules and uses. Likewise, each biosphere reserve zone has its use and rules that indicate how to use it.

Core Zone

These are areas where nature must allowed to develop with as little human intervention as possible. Its most important purpose is to protect valuable natural resources (eg.Water), ecosystems (mangroves and coral reefs) and the species of flora and fauna related to them. They must be protected by law. Activities and uses that do not go against conservation are allowed in them, such as:

• Eco-tourism
• Snorkel and swimming
• Artisanal subsistence fishing
• Transit, boarding and unloading of visitors and investigators
• Environmental education activities (fieldtrips, fauna and flora observation)
• Scientific investigation and monitoring
• Activities to prevent or mitigate human or natural actions that might affect the environment
• Small-scale agriculture
• Groundwater extraction

A biosphere reserve can have one or more core zones, both on land and sea.

The Buffer Zone

Zones are beside or around core zones to protect these from the impacts of human activities. The uses and activities that are allowed in these zones are similar to those allowed in core zones, but with a little less restriction. These include:
• Recreation
• Environmental Education
• Investigation and observation of nature

Transition or co-operation zone

These are the zones where human settlements are located (district, commercial and industrial sectors). Their main function is to promote a better relation between man and the environment that surrounds him, to obtain sustainable development. All types of activities are allowed, provided that there is respect toward the environment and the natural resources are not wasted.
Activities include:

• Human settlements
• Services infrastructure (roads, power generation, dumps).
• Urban and commercial center (stores shops, restaurants, offices, etc.)
• Tourism infrastructure center (hotels, restaurants)
• Construction material exploitation (rock quarries, brick factories)
• Post offices
• Industrial fishing