The Niagara Escarpment is the prominent topographical feature of South Georgian Bay. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment a biosphere reserve in February, 1990. The Niagara Escarpment is one of only 16 biosphere reserves in Canada, and is part of a network of 610 reserves in 117 countries.
The Niagara Escarpment, in its Ontario portion, is 725 km long, covering 1923 km2, with a maximum height of 335 m. An escarpment may be defined as a steep rock face of great length formed by an abrupt termination of strata. The Niagara Escarpment adds a unique visual quality to Ontario’s landscape as it crosses the province from Queenston, on the Niagara River, through Hamilton, Milton, Orangeville, Collingwood, Owen Sound and Tobermory to Manitoulin Island and St Joseph Island. It reaches its highest point in South Georgian Bay at Osler Bluffs. The UNESCO designation recognizes the Niagara Escarpment as an internationally significant ecosystem for its special environment and unique environmental plan.
To obtain UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation, regions must actively foster economic and human development that are socioculturally and ecologically sustainable, contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems and biodiversity, and provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global conservation and land management. They are also beginning to focus on social enterprise, and strengthening their collaborations with indigenous peoples.
UNESCO biosphere reserves are dedicated to balancing economic growth with conservation. They are learning sites that offer leadership in their regions by striving to balance the health of natural systems with the needs of growing communities. Biosphere reserves strive to conserve the diversity of plants, animals and micro-organisms which make up our living “biosphere” and maintain healthy natural systems while, at the same time, meeting the material needs and aspirations of an increasing number of people.
Far more than just sustainably managed places to live, biosphere reserves serve to support deliberation, dialogue, learning through reflection, knowledge sharing, evaluation and feedback among multiple participants on numerous levels: not only within the biosphere reserves themselves, but across Canada and internationally. In this sense, the biosphere reserve network is a community of practice across a multi-level, multi-partner, international network.
Canada’s 16 biosphere reserves share resources and best practices through the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association (CBRA).