In 2009, the Great Sandy region was awarded Biosphere Reserve status by UNESCO. This gives world-wide recognition to the unique natural attributes of the Fraser Coast region, neighbouring Gympie area and the Bundaberg coastline and puts them in the same class as the Galapagos Islands, the Central Amazon, the Everglades and Uluru.
A Biosphere Reserve is an ecosystem with plants and animals considered to be of unusual scientific and natural interest. It is a title given by UNESCO to help protect the sites. The plan is to promote management, research and education in ecosystem conservation. This includes the ‘sustainable use of natural resources’. If, for example, fish or trees are taken for human use, this should be done in a way that least damages the ecosystem.
The program is run by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme. The MAB programme has built up the World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 1971, and these reserves exchange knowledge and experiences on new ideas for sustainable development. In this way, Biosphere Reserves can be used to develop new ways of doing things, test these ways and share the results. The aim is to get a balanced relationship between mankind and nature.
The biosphere reserve program is entirely voluntary. Authority over land and water use does not change, and government jurisdictions and private ownership rights remain as they were before designation. The Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve is jointly administered by the Burnett Mary Regional Group for Natural Resource Management Inc., Environment Protection Agency/Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Fraser Coast Regional Council and Gympie Regional Council.
An area can be proposed as a Biosphere Reserve by its residents because it demonstrates innovative approaches to living and working in harmony with nature. This is then ratified by a national committee, and designated by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) program.
The Great Sandy Biosphere was designated in 1977, and comprises the Great Sandy Strait, a Ramsar-listed wetland, and Fraser Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Biosphere reserves have three interrelated zones that aim to fulfil three complementary and mutually reinforcing functions:
The core area(s) comprises a strictly protected ecosystem that contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
The buffer zone surrounds or adjoins the core areas, and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training and education.
The transition area is the part of the reserve where the greatest activity is allowed, fostering economic and human development that is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.