Asterousia Hybrid University: Sustainable Integrated Management of Biosphere Reserves

The UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, and the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (MIO-ECSDE) have collaborated with the Greek National MAB Committee since 2014 to organise Man and the Biosphere (MAB) summer universities, which aim to provide training and develop knowledge on the importance of Biosphere Reserves as learning places for sustainable development.

Phase A of the Asterousia Hybrid University was held in-presence in October 2021, in Greece, and had gathered 16 young participants from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Romania. It consisted of interactive sessions including lectures and field visits.

Phase B with its online platform held over January-February reached out to a broader audience, notably throughout South-East Europe and the Mediterranean. This year’s university delved into additional themes such as threats to biodiversity and ecosystems caused by plastic pollution in marine and coastal Biosphere Reserves, as well as continuing to address the topics covered in the first years. The second edition of the university had a particular focus on the necessity of Ocean literacy programmes.

Building on the outputs from the first phase, the second phase included 4 weeks of courses with self-paced lessons and live expert meetings each week. The courses employed a participatory and interactive format focused on fostering collaboration and exchange between young experts, scientists and biosphere reserves managers in integrated management approaches to help promote sustainable development of biosphere reserves. Each week, the online course featured a different theme, emphasising the potential of biosphere reserves as sites to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

© MIO-ECSDE/ 2021-2022 Asterousia Hybrid University poster

The course was introduced by defining the principles and identifying the values and the objectives of the MAB Programme, the SDGs and other global and regional frameworks. The UNESCO MAB programme is an intergovernmental scientific initiative, which has historically applied a multidisciplinary and integrated approach. It aims to improve human livelihood and protect the natural and man-made ecosystems by establishing a sustainable relationship between people and their environments.

Jonathan Baker Regional Science Advisor. Head of Science unit UNESCO Regional Bureau

In line with the SDG 15, which calls for “protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of ecosystems,” the course provided insights into management, communication and branding of biosphere reserves, as well as the involvement of local communities and other interested stakeholders. The participants were able to learn how the MAB programme promotes local practices, traditions and cultures through its participatory and bottom-up approach.

Within the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) framework, the issues pertaining to the coastal and marine biosphere reserves, notably marine pollution and biodiversity in the Mediterranean, and the importance of Ocean Literacy were particularly emphasised in this second edition.

Other related topics included the monitoring and assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution as well as the role of key stakeholders (e.g. education community, tourism business, local authorities) in the reduction of Single Use Plastic (SUPs). Addressing these issues are a stepping stone in the prevention and mitigation actions to achieve SDG 13: “urgent action to combat climate change and its impact.”

This year is the second year of UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), which IOC-UNESCO leads at the global level. The decade looks at how the ocean plays a crucial role in stabilising the climate and supporting life on Earth and human well-being.

Ana Luiza M. Thompson-Flores, Director, UNESCO Regional Bureau

Young people are playing a key role in biosphere reserves by inspiring local communities and proactively leading local initiatives including education activities. The role of youth in biosphere reserves and education for sustainable development was particularly highlighted since the MAB programme empowers the youth as a key stakeholder group, and projects such as the Asterousia Hybrid University operate with the same approach.

The course enrolled 123 participants from the region and around the world. Participants gave a positive feedback for the course, not only regarding the MAB programme but also relating to the work that UNESCO drives. Participants were very enthusiastic and valued the opportunity. One in particular commented that it was a transformative experience and the course was very informative, inspiring and valuable.

© UNESCO / Screen capture of some participants

The Asterousia Hybrid University is co-organised and supported by: UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe; MIO-ECSDE/MEdIES Secretariat; Asterousia Management Committee; UNESCO Chair and Network on Sustainable Development Management and Education in the Mediterranean; Greek National Committee for MAB/UNESCO; AKOMM, Prefecture of Crete; with the contribution of LIFE Programme of the European Union and of the Green Fund of Greece.

The learning resources of the course are available on the MIO-ECSDE’s YouTube Channel, including all video lectures as well as the recorded “meet-the-expert” (zoom) sessions.

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