Buffer Areas Essay

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Buffer areas surround or abut core protected areas. The activities that take place in buffer areas depend largely upon local circumstances and national or international legislation. Buffer areas may be privately owned or owned by governments, and in some cases, ownership is a combination of the two. Buffer areas, like the core zone, may be otherwise recognized through international treaties. The level of protection may, however, be less in the buffer area than in the core zone. Buffer areas may also be referred to as buffer zones or managed-use areas.

If the core zone’s purpose is to protect the environment through restricting human use of the area, more wide-ranging activities may occur in the buffer area. These activities need to be of low impact upon the core area. Some examples are ecotourism, low-impact recreation, environmental education, and research

The core zone and buffer area often occur as part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Man and Biosphere Reserves, which had strict concentric zonation in its original design. At the center of the zonation was the core zone, which, as stated, was a place where the natural ecosystems were protected and monitored. Surrounding the core zone was the buffer area, which was intended to shield the core zone from wider human impacts.

Origins of Buffer Models

The original model conceived in the 1970s intended that the buffer area would comprise two separate areas. The inner buffer area was to be strictly limited in terms of public access, with the main activities to be education and research. In the outer buffer area, wider-ranging activities such as recreation could take place. Later, in the 1980s, the outer buffer area was renamed the transition zone. Subsequently, this outer zone has sometimes been called an area of cooperation. Agriculture, settlement, and other activities that sustainably develop the area may occur in the area of cooperation.

In fact, the original concentric design for the core, buffer, and transition areas has not always been followed, and this in some ways reflects the flexibility of the biosphere reserve concept. For instance, the Gouraya Biosphere Reserve in Algeria is a national park by the same name. It contains uplands, one wetland, and a marine area. The forests and marine areas contain important flora and fauna. The core zone is strictly protected. There are two buffer areas that abut the core zones in order to protect them from the activities in the transition area. The transition area comprises about 4.7 square miles (1157.6 hectares), with the two buffer areas totaling 0.6 square miles (162.7 hectares) and the core zone comprising 2.6 square miles (680.2 hectares).

Buffer areas can on occasion be absent from a biosphere reserve. Such is the case in the Tai Biosphere Reserve in the southwest Cote d’Ivoire. This primary tropical forest has a core area of 2,007.8 square miles (520,000 hectares) with a transition area of 386 square miles (100,000 hectares). 160,000 people were counted as living within the core zone of the biosphere reserve in 1998. This shows how flexible the biosphere reserve concept is in its application as the original ideal model depicted the core zone as being devoid of human occupation. Yet there are problems within this biosphere reserve include logging, farming, poaching, and illegal gold mining. Given these activities and the human settlements, this biosphere reserve’s core zone is followed directly by a transition zone, with no buffer zone.


  1. Michel Batisse, “Developing and Focusing the Biosphere Reserve Concept,” Environmental Conservation (v.9/2, 1986);
  2. P. Neumann, “Primitive Ideas: Protected Area Buffer Zones and the Politics of Land in Africa,” Development and Change (28(3):559-582);
  3. J. Sanford Rikoon and Theresa L. Goedeke, Anti-Environmentalism and Citizen Opposition to the Ozark Man and the Biosphere Reserve (Edwin Mellon Press, 2000).

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