ASTANA – Located in the Sahara-Gobi Desert zone of the Aral Sea basin, the Barsakelmes Nature Reserve was added to UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) during a meeting of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme of UNESCO in Lima, Peru on March 18 and 19, according to unesco.org.
“The Aral Sea region is a priority area for wetland conservation and several bird migration routes converge over the region. The territory of the proposed biosphere reserve is a valuable site to preserve the biodiversity of the Aral Sea. It numbers approximately 2,000 species of invertebrates, 30 mammal species, 178 bird species, and 20 reptile species. The reserve also includes four nomadic Kazakhs medieval archaeological sites that were part of the Silk Road,” according to UNESCO’s website.
The Barsakelmes reserve was founded in 1939 in what is now the modern Kyzylorda region. “Barsakelmes” means “if you go there, you are not coming back” in Kazakh. There are several legends connected to the name. One of them related to the fact that back in the days before the Aral Sea started to shrink, there was an island there and during the winter people used go to there in search of food and there was no way back from the island during the spring when everything melted down.
Twenty sites have been added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, including Monts de Tlemcen in Algeria, Beaver Hills and TsáTué in Canada, Lake Bosomtwe in Ghana, La Hotte in Haiti, Agasthyamala in India, Balambangan in Indonesia, Hamoun in Iran, Collina Po in Italy, Belo-sur-Mer – Kirindy-Mitea in Madagascar, Isla Cozumel in Mexico, Atlas Cedar in Morocco, Gran Pajatén in Peru, Albay in Philippines, Fajãs de São Jorge in Portugal and others.
Kazakhstan’s other five reserves have been added to the WNBR in recent years. Korgalzhyn, which is located in the north central part of the country, entered the list in 2012, Alakol (desert zone of Eurasia in the central part of the Alakol inter-mountain depression) in 2013, Ak-Zhayik (the delta of the Ural River on the coast of the Caspian Sea) and Katon-Karagai in the East Kazakhstan region in 2014. And last year, the Aksu-Zhabagly reserve (the north-west of Talasskiy Alatau and the south of Karatau in the West Tien Shan) joined the list.