A haven for monarch butterflies in Mexico and prime dugong habitat in Vietnam are among 25 new sites that UNESCO has added to its Man and the Biosphere program, which places biosphere reserves under the stewardship of local communities. The International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme of UNESCO, meeting from October 24 to 27 in Paris, designated the new sites as part of its 30 year old program.
Of the 25 new Man and the Biosphere, MAB, sites announced on Friday, 18 are located in Mexico. Three are in Spain, including one transboundary reserve straddling Spain and Morocco, and the council designated one new site each in the Russian Federation, in Vietnam and in Malawi.
In places like Michoacana, Mexico, that means encouraging reforestation of traditional monarch butterfly habitat that had been cleared to grow corn. Every October millions of monarch butterflies descend on the Michoacanos forests after a 4,000 kilometer (2,500 mile) trip from Canada and the United States.
Along with the butterflies comes a sizable contingent of tourists, providing income for the local population.
The announcement made the Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve Vietnam's largest area of environmental protection, covering an area of more than 1.1 million hectares, (2.7 million acres). Part of that reserve, Phu Quoc National Park, is becoming an ecotourist destination because of its rich ecosystem with more than 470 species of plants, 140 species of wild animals, and several types of coral reefs offshore. Phu Quoc, the largest island in Vietnam, is also part of an archipelago consisting of 22 islands and islets. Many species here are on the Red List of Threatened Species, the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species, compiled by the IUCN-World Conservation Union.
Tourists come to see such rarities as the endangered red-headed crane and the dugong, cousin of the manatee, which inhabits Caribbean waters. UNESCO believes that if ecotourism is encouraged it could contribute to sustainable development in the area, bridging the divide between economic growth and environmental protection.
The 25 new reserves added by the International Coordinating Council brings the total number of MAB reserves to 507 in 102 countries. Extensions or changes to four existing biosphere reserves also were approved.