The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has recognized a forested area straddling two districts in Riau as the country’s seventh biosphere reserve, an official said on Tuesday.
Endang Sukara, chairman of the Indonesian National Committee for the Man and Biosphere program, said Unesco had approved the country’s proposal to list Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu, which is located in Siak and Bengkalis districts, as a biosphere reserve during a meeting in South Korea on May 26.
The country’s last two biosphere reserves — Gunung Leuser and Pulau Siberut — were recognized by the UN agency almost 28 years ago, in 1981.
“GSK-BB was one of 22 proposed biosphere locations in 17 countries, and one of the 12 which received approval,” said Endang, who is also the deputy chairman of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
Unesco defines biosphere reserves as areas “to promote and demonstrate a balanced relationship between humans and the biosphere.” The reserves must contain a combination of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.
Officials here said they hoped that this newest biosphere would play an important role in fighting global warming and encouraging scientists and local residents not only to preserve the site, but benefit from it as well.
Endang said the initiative to gain Unesco recognition for the biosphere reserve in Riau began in 2004, when PT Sinar Mas Forestry, with the support of PT Asia Pulp and Paper, set aside 72,255 hectares of its production forest as a permanent conservation area.
“They have signed an agreement that [this land] will be given to the biosphere project,” Endang said. “They basically cannot touch it anymore.”
The reserve includes the 84,967-hectare Giam Siak Kecil conservation area in Siak district and the 21,500-hectare Bukit Batu area in Bengkalis district.
LIPI researches have said that the entire area is home to at least 159 species of birds, dozens of mammal species, 13 species of fish, 8 species of reptiles and 52 endangered and protected plants.
Endang said that GSK-BB was now part of Unesco’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which includes 533 such reserves in 107 countries.
He said that a biosphere reserve was different from natural reserves in general, because they were developed with a view toward accommodating three majors functions: conservation, sustainable economy and research and education.
Endang said local communities and Indonesian researchers, along with local administrations, should work together to manage the area, including building a buffer zone, where certain animal and plant species could be taken for study and conservation purposes, and a transition zone where approved practices were allowed.
Endang also encouraged local administrations around the reserve to build botanical gardens and large aquariums that people could visit and learn about native plants and animals.
“That is why local government support is very important,” he said.
Rachman Sidik, the head of Riau’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency, said that local administrations had supported the project from the beginning.
However, he said that future cooperation between different sectors, especially the various stakeholders and the private sector, would be necessary.