Indawgyi Lake has joined the global network of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, becoming Myanmar’s second Biosphere Reserve after Inle Lake.

This important region supports the livelihoods of some 50,000 people and is also home to a great diversity of mammals, water birds, fish and reptiles, many of which are endangered. It is therefore crucial that the area is managed sustainably for both people and biodiversity – which is exactly what Biosphere Reserves are designed to enable.

According to Dr U Nyi Nyi Kyaw, the Director General of the Forest Department, “The Biosphere Reserve designation does not only recognise Indawgyi’s globally outstanding biodiversity but also highlights the government’s commitment to collaborative management and to integration of conservation and sustainable development for the benefit of local communities.”

Great Cormorants in Indawgyi lake. Credit: Bjorn Olesen.

Great Cormorants in Indawgyi lake. Credit: Bjorn Olesen.

A model landscape for people and wildlife

Indawgyi Lake is a wetland surrounded by rice fields and a forested watershed. Unless agriculture and forests are managed sustainably, the lake ecosystem will suffer from run-off from erosion triggered by agricultural encroachment or unsustainable logging in the watershed. If farmers use excessive amounts of fertilisers and pesticides, the lake becomes polluted and the ecosystem could collapse.

A Biosphere Reserve addresses these challenges through a zonation approach. Core conservation zones, buffer zones, and sustainable development zones have been designated in full consultation with local people and all other relevant stakeholders.

Strictly protected core zones are focused on the most critical parts of the ecosystem. For example, fish breeding areas in the lake have been identified by local fishermen in collaboration with scientists to be protected as no-take zones, so that the lake’s fish stock can replenish to sustain fisheries and the livelihood of local fishing communities. Likewise, intact remaining primary forests have been zoned as core zones to conserve endangered animals, such as the eastern hoolock gibbon, Shortridge’s langur, Asiatic black bear, hog deer, and gaur.

Tree nursery worker in Indawgyi Myanmar. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Tree nursery worker in Indawgyi Myanmar. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Buffer zones have been designated to support sustainable natural resource management, such as community forestry, collection of non-timber forest products, fisheries, extensive grazing of seasonal flooded grasslands and ecotourism, all of which benefit sustainable livelihoods in the local Red Shan and Kachin communities.

The development zone encompasses the agricultural plain and the villages surrounding the lake. In this zone, government departments support sustainable development to safeguard the overall environmental integrity of the Indawgyi Lake basin. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Forest Department have been collaborating with other relevant government agencies to support organic farming, waste management and responsible tourism.

“The Indawgyi Biosphere Reserve will become a model region for integrating biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, and a centre for science and education for sustainable development in Myanmar,” says Frank Momberg, FFI’s Myanmar Programme Director.