Lonely Planet Writer

Peru and Ecuador to establish South America's first binational biosphere reserve

The governments of neighbouring Latin American nations Peru and Ecuador have agreed to establish the continent’s first binational biosphere reserve.

The Arenillas Forest Reserve in Ecuador’s south
The Arenillas Forest Reserve in Ecuador’s south. Image by: Philip Lee Harvey

The area is the only remnant dry forest in western Latin America and helps contain the expansion of the Sechura desert to the south. Its abundance of bird species makes it a well-known destination for birdwatchers. It also includes mangrove, coastline and some desert-like regions featuring cacti that grow over 20ft (6m).The new 1.8 million acre reserve will merge two existing reserves notable for their dry forest ecosystems: the Arenillas Forest Reserve in Ecuador’s south and northeastern Peru’s Tumbes forest.

But the significance of the agreement runs deeper than its ecological implications. It’s been interpreted as another sign that a centuries-old border dispute that has characterized relations between the two nations can truly be consigned to the dustbin of history.

View from Mashpi Lodge across its cloud forest reserve.
The amalgamation of the two reserves will take place this year.  Image by: Philip Lee Harvey

There are 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries around the world, including 16 that straddle the borders of two or more countries. The reserves are intended to promote both ecosystem preservation and sustainable development – objectives that can sometimes conflict.

Each reserve is divided into three zones: the core area is a strictly protected ecosystem, a second transition zone allows use for scientific and education purposes, while a third zone allows use of the area’s resources for sustainable development purposes. Launched 45 years ago, the reserves are part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme.

The amalgamation of the two reserves is expected to take place later this year.