Muscat – Oman is preparing to designate two sites as part of the Unesco World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).
The sultanate, led by Environment Authority, has started the process of assessing Jabal al Akhdar Nature Reserve and Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve as prospective biosphere reserves.
There are 727 biosphere reserves in 131 countries, including 22 transboundary sites. Of these, 35 biosphere reserves are in the Arab region spread over 14 countries, with the maximum – eight – in Algeria.
WNBR covers internationally designated protected areas, known as biosphere reserves, which are meant to demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature, encouraging sustainable development.
Environment Authority is working in partnership with Germany’s Succow Stiftung, through its Succow Foundation, which is involved in the development and protection of national parks and biosphere reserves in many countries.
Kirsten Meuer of the international nature conservation unit of Succow Foundation, told Muscat Daily that the aim of the project is to assess the two sites for their potential for biosphere reserve development. “We are doing an analysis of the potential, assessing which site would be suitable,” she said.
Kirsten added that initially the company will be looking at the criteria established by Unesco, like significance of biological diversity conservation, potential for sustainable economic development on a regional scale, cultural significance of the area, stakeholder cooperation, and options for zonation.
“We will assess which criteria are already met and give recommendations on what needs to be done to meet them. It is possible that another project may follow later, where the biosphere reserve will be established,” she said.
Elaborating on the purpose and benefits of establishing biosphere reserves, Kirsten said that Unesco biosphere reserves follow an integrated approach that balances conservation objectives with local livelihood needs.
“They aim to be model sites for sustainable development, and foster innovation and mutual learning. Cooperation is the key in this concept. In this case, the potential for sustainable tourism or ecotourism development for local income generation is one important aspect to look at.”
In its brief on the Oman project, the company stated that currently, land and natural resource utilisation in Oman is intensifying with potential threats to the maintenance of many ecosystem services.
‘Biosphere reserves, as recognised models and learning sites for sustainable development, can play a significant role for testing proven and developing adapted approaches for alternative sustainable income in Oman. This will sustain rural livelihoods and decrease the pressure on natural ecosystems.’