India's "unique" Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve in the Western Ghats is among 20 new sites added by the UN's top cultural body UNESCO to its World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
The International Co-ordinating Council added the new sites during a two-day meeting on Saturday in Lima, capital of Peru, bringing the total number of biosphere reserves to 669 sites in 120 countries, including 16 trans-boundary sites. The newly adopted sites include 18 national site and one trans-boundary site shared between Spain and Portugal.
"Located in the Western Ghats, in the south of India, the Agasthyamala biosphere reserve includes peaks reaching 1,868 metres above sea level. Consisting mostly of tropical forests, the site is home to 2,254 species of higher plants including about 400 that are endemic," UNESCO said.
"It is also a unique genetic reservoir of cultivated plants especially cardamom, jamune, nutmeg, pepper and plantain. Three wildlife sanctuaries, Shendurney, Peppara, Neyyar and Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger reserve are included in the site," it said.
The Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve (ABR) was established in 2001 and is spread across the two states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Biosphere reserves are places for learning about sustainable development aiming to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources. New reserves are designated each year by the International Co-ordinating Council of the UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, which brings together elected representatives of 34 UNESCO Member States.
"A number of tribal settlements with a total population of 3,000 are located in the (Agasthyamala) biosphere reserve. They largely rely on biological resources for their sustenance and recent projects have been set up successfully to reduce their dependence on the forests," UNESCO said.
There are 18 biosphere reserves in India out of which only nine, including the Nilgiris, Nanda Devi, Nokrek, Gulf of Mannar, Sundarban, and Great Nicobar, had been included in the network.
Biosphere reserves in India protect larger areas of natural habitat and often include one or more National Parks and/or preserves, along with buffer zones that are open to some economic uses. Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life.