UK experts to help four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Asia

A group of UK researchers in marine planning and a UK UNESCO Biosphere in North Devon have been awarded funding from the Research Council’s £225 million Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to help support coastal communities living in UNESCO Biospheres in East and South East Asia that depend on healthy and diverse marine ecosystems for food, livelihoods, their health and well-being.

The Blue Communities project will help build the long-term research capability for marine planning over the next 4 years in East and South East Asia and, in doing so, support local coastal communities. The project is led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory in collaboration with the University of Plymouth, the University of Exeter, and the UK UNESCO World Biosphere in North Devon, UK non-governmental organisations and four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Asia.

Marine and coastal ecosystems are under immense pressure from the multiple, and often conflict, needs of the people that use it. In E/SE Asia, where marine activities are important contributors of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), marine spatial planning involving coordinated decision-making has been highlighted as a key requirement for a sustainable future.

The Blue Communities team will focus their work on case study areas in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, China and Malaysia. Four of these sites are already designated as UNESCO Biosphere reserves under UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme (MaB) with the fifth in process of designation, and there will be strong links forged between them and the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Andy Bell, Director of the North Devon Biosphere says

“Our UK research colleagues saw the potential in the international collaboration through the MaB network. The programme will support interdisciplinary work for human health and well-being as well as environmental safeguards. From my perspective, it is a real wonderful opportunity to share our experience and learn from colleagues in Asia and demonstrate the programme as a valid pipeline for assisting progress in the 2030 Sustainable development goals and bring solidarity in the region.”

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are model regions for sustainable development and test sites for conservation approaches where communities collaborate to live in harmony with their environment. They are the worlds only internationally recognised ‘badge’ for demonstrating excellence in sustainable development. UNESCO Biospheres are being used specifically in this research programme as these ‘science for sustainability’ support sites provide an established, collaborative infrastructure in which initiatives can be developed and tested alongside the stakeholders.

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserves involved in the project are:

Shankou Mangrove, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, China
Cu Lau Cham-Hoi An, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Vietnam
Palawan, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Philippines
• Sabah Marine Parks, prospective UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Malaysia
Taka Bonerate-Kepulauan Selayar, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Indonesia

Professor Hoang Tri, chair of Vietnam’s UNESCO National Committee for Man and Biosphere Program and Director of Center for Environmental Research and Education at the Hanoi National University of Education, noted: ‘This fund will be valuable to do research and study for global and national priorities for sustainability science, in both methodological development and good practices.’

The project was funded alongside 37 other projects that received £225 million in total as part of the UK Research Council’s Global Challenges Research Fund. The Fund aims to build upon research knowledge in the UK, strengthen capacity overseas, and help address challenges which are informed by expressed need in developing countries.