The Gibraltar Government is engaging with UNESCO in a bid to form part of the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean.
The biosphere reserve is a UNESCO designated area and combines the Tingitane Peninsula in Morocco and the southern Iberian Peninsula of Andalusia.
There are a number of biosphere reserves in the world such as the Galápagos, Uluru in Australia, Mount Olympus in Greece and the Hawaiian Islands.
In 2005/2006 Morocco and Spain started working together to create the first Intercontinental Biosphere reserve which would cover existing protective areas in Spain and Morocco.
“This is important because the biosphere reserve includes those areas that were already protected as national parks or natural parks, so it included Los Alcornocales Natural Park, areas of the Rif [mountains] and a number of other natural areas,” said Dr John Cortes the Minister for Environment.
As part of the work that goes into the reserve there is certain factors that go into the protection of the biodiversity of the areas. “You raise the profile, you work together, you collaborate,” said Dr Cortes.
“Back when I was in GONHS I made approaches both directly to the Man and Biosphere project in UNESCO and I tried also to get through to the Gibraltar Government [the GSD was in power then] and the UK Government to see whether Gibraltar could be included in the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve,” said Dr Cortes.
“As it happened this never came to fruition and there was not much of a response.”
“Obviously it had its own dynamic and the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean was set up and Gibraltar was excluded,” he added.
Since then, Dr Cortes became Minister for the Environment.
One of the reasons that Gibraltar was not included Dr Cortes suspects might have been the fact that Gibraltar’s protected areas at the time were not particularly well managed. Setting aside any political considerations, which he was not aware of at the time.
“There wasn’t the legal backing to it, there weren’t management plans for the Upper Rock or management plans for marine protected areas. There wasn’t any specific enforcement like we have now and therefore our situation while I think morally valid was operationally weak,” he said.
The minister said that now there are management plans for both the Gibraltar terrestrial nature reserve and for marine protected areas, a marine enforcement unit, research, publication and management teams. “We are now up there with any protected area in the resources and management,” he said.
“Therefore I think this is possibly the time when we should request incorporation into this Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve,” he added.
Recently officials from both Spain and Morocco met to discuss the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve, this prompted Dr Cortes to contact them and say “any Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar would invariable and justifiably include Gibraltar’s protected areas.”
“Because, A, they are now much better protected than they were and much better than many others and, B, we can contribute biodiversity that is different enough from the surrounding areas because of our geology and our particular species found in Gibraltar to make a valid contribution to the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve,” he added.
He notes that tens of thousands of birds pass through each year when they are migrating and that Gibraltar shares some common sea creatures such as the limpets with Morocco. The migration of dolphins, whales, tuna and sea turtles in the area also includes Gibraltar.
Dr Cortes aims to continue engaging with the necessary authorities and said that these processes can take a while.
“We would have to do this through the UK because it is a UN thing and we are not a member state, the UK is,” he said.
Dr Cortes said he will continue to suggest to UNESCO that in the same way that Gibraltar has a UNESCO world heritage site which was accepted without any political implications that it should be included in the biosphere reserve.
Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean
“The Moroccan section of the intercontinental biosphere reserve is located in the region of Djbala on the Tingitane Peninsula, adjacent to the Strait of Gibraltar. It is bordered by the Gharb plain and the hills of Hafs to the west, the Rif Central to the east, the Mediterranean coastline to the north, and the western Prerif to the south,” states the UNESCO website.
“The region is very mountainous and marked by two major crests: the Numidian chain and the mid-ocean limestone ridge. Extensive depressions are found in the crests, including the Chefchaouen furrow, which covers the central portion of the region. The highest peak is Jebel Lakraa with a height of 2,159 metres.”
“The Spanish section of the biosphere reserve is located in the south of Andalusia. Numerous national parks, such as the Parque natural de Andalucia, contribute to the conservation and protection of unique flora and fauna species. In addition, the area is situated on the second largest geological massif in Andalusia, Las Cordilleras Beticas,” the site adds.