UNESCO Adds 18 New Sites to Its World Network of Biosphere Reserves

The network now includes 701 protected nature reserves in 124 countries around the world.

UNESCO Adds 18 New Sites to Its World Network of Biosphere Reserves

Now a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve: the Isle of Wight and its dramatic chalk coastline

Photo by Shutterstock

An island off the southern coast of England. A mountainous region in Japan known for its rare butterfly species. These are two of the 18 new sites in 12 countries that UNESCO added to its World Network of Biosphere Reserves for 2019.

The International Co-ordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme met in Paris on June 19 to approve the addition of these sites, along with extending the boundaries of eight existing reserves, including South Korea’s Jeju Island Biosphere Reserve (from 83,094 hectares to 387,194 hectares), and Spain’s Menorca Biosphere Reserve (from 71,219 to 514,485 hectares).

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves differ slightly from UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. The latter are places deemed to have “outstanding cultural value” and fulfill at least one of 10 criteria, including unmatched natural beauty or environmental, historical, or cultural significance.

Beyond being a place of outstanding natural beauty, a biosphere reserve must also promote tangible solutions for conserving the area’s biodiversity while also promoting sustainable use of the region by humans in order to be elected into this network. In other words, to earn a biosphere reserve designation, the national governments of each place must prove that humans exist harmoniously alongside the area’s terrestrial, marine, or coastal ecosystems.

(This means that some places—like the Galápagos—can be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve at the same time.)

Once a nature reserve is part of this network, it remains under the sovereign jurisdiction of the state or country in which it is located, while also benefiting from the internationally recognized status from UNESCO.

Here are some of the most interesting additions to UNESCO’s 2019 list of biosphere reserves.


With coastal views like this, it’s easy to see why Queen Victoria often visited the Isle of Wight.

Courtesy of UNESCO/Visit Isle of Wight - United Kingdom

Isle of Wight Biosphere Reserve, United Kingdom Located off the southern coast of England, the Isle of Wight’s new biosphere reserve includes 38,000 hectares of land and an additional 53,496 hectares of marine area off its coast. In addition to being a favorite vacation spot for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the island is known for its wide sandy beaches and dramatic chalk cliffs.


The Kingdom of Eswatini’s Lubombo Mountain Range is home to forest, savanna, and wetland ecosystems.

Courtesy of UNESCO/Lubombo Biosphere Reserve - Kingdom of Eswatini

Lubombo Biosphere Reserve, Eswatini Near the border of South African and Mozambique, the country formerly known as Swaziland is home to the newly designated Lubombo Biosphere Reserve. With 294,020 hectares in the Lubombo Mountain Range, this reserve includes forest, wetland, and savanna ecosystems. Of the 88 mammal species found in the region, 20 of them are endemic, including the white rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, and roan antelope, as well as the tsessebe and suni, which are both subspecies of antelope.


Discover the unusual rock formations in Japan’s Kanto Mountain Range.

Courtesy of UNESCO/Kobushi Biosphere Reserve, Japan

Kobushi Biosphere Reserve, Japan West of Tokyo, this newly designated 190,603-hectare nature reserve spans most of Japan’s Kanto Mountain Range. Famous for its dramatic geological formations, the area also can claim that 40 percent of Japan’s butterfly species live there, including 24 endangered species.

These are the rest of the new sites added to UNESCO’s network of Biosphere Reserves in 2019:

Austria: Lower Mura Valley Biosphere Reserve
Indonesia: Saleh-Moyo-Tambora “SAMOTA” Biosphere Reserve
Indonesia: Togean Tojo Una-Una Biosphere Reserve
Italy: Po Grande Biosphere Reserve
Italy: Julian Alps Biosphere Reserve
South Korea: Gangwon Eco-Peace Biosphere Reserve
South Korea: Yeoncheon Imjin River Biosphere Reserve
Norway: Nordhordland Biosphere Reserve
Poland: Roztocze Biosphere Reserve
Russia: Lake Elton Biosphere Reserve
Spain: Alto Turia Biosphere Reserve
Spain: La Siberia Biosphere Reserve
Spain: Valle del Cabriel Biosphere Reserve
Sweden: Vindelälven-Juhtatdahka Biosphere Reserve
Sweden: Voxnadalen Biosphere Reserve

>> Next: How to See Europe’s Lesser-Known UNESCO Heritage Sites

Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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