Te Ipukarea Society Project officer Alanna Smith was selected to represent the society and the Cook Islands at this year’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) youth forum in Po Delta, Italy. This was the first-ever youth forum of its kind.
It was all about bringing youth together from around the globe who work within Biosphere Reserves, to share with one another the work they conduct within their reserves. It was also an opportunity to work together in defining how youth can play a more significant role in shaping their territory and defining their engagement in UNESCO’s MAB Programme.
A biosphere reserve is an ecosystem that typically contains plants and animals of unusual scientific and natural interest. It is a model created by UNESCO (a united nations agency which deals with Education, Social and Natural Sciences, Culture and Communications) to create areas for sustainable development.
The aim of a biosphere reserve is to promote management, research and education in ecosystem conservation, whilst also including the sustainable use of natural resources. If, for example, fish or trees are harvested for human use, this is done in ways which least damage the ecosystem. There are now 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries.
Around 85 countries were present at this year’s youth forum, and the Cook Islands was the only Pacific Island nation to participate.
Alanna was particularly fortunate to be selected, considering the Cook Islands is yet to have a biosphere reserve of their own. We do however have great potential to have a few islands such as Suwarrow, Takutea, Manuae, Atiu and Mangaia as possible biosphere reserve areas, if the government and the people of those islands support the idea.
Biosphere reserves are internationally recognised, and can provide marketing leverage for countries that hold them. Biosphere Reserves strengthen ecosystem services, and therefore provide opportunities for research to be carried out within the area of ecosystem services. Biosphere reserves also promotes learning for sustainable development and allows nations to achieve their global sustainable goals. They would provide an excellent enhancement of our Marae Moana Marine Park
The young participants at the forum had backgrounds from rangers to researchers and environmental educators. Alanna had the opportunity to facilitate a small working group from this diverse array of young people in order to come up with an action plan on how youth can be better represented in the MAB programme and in the Biosphere Reserve ‘s life.
An excursion day also made it possible to visit a biosphere reserve called the “Valle dei Comacchio,” one of the largest brackish water areas in Italy. It is made up of an extremely rich ecosystem that welcomes a wide variety of species. The river bed of Comacchio was once a thriving eel fishing ground, where traditional fishing practices similar to those in our local reef pools were used.
Establishing a biosphere reserve will require a collaborative effort from various stakeholders such as NGOs, private sectors, government agencies, farmers, fishermen and land owners. Te Ipukarea Society is looking forward to assisting all stakeholders in the establishment of the Cook Islands very first Biosphere Reserve in the future.
A big meitaki maata to the MAB Youth Forum Organising Committee for finding financial assistance for Alanna to attend the forum.