The Georgian Bay Biosphere (GBB) is an inclusive and dynamic organization that builds capacity for regional sustainability in eastern Georgian Bay. Established in 1998, the GBB is a non-profit registered Canadian charity governed by a Board of Directors with an administrative office located in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada.
In 2004, our grassroots nomination document was accepted by UNESCO as it met strict criteria for designation as a world biosphere. Biospheres receive no funding from UNESCO nor from Canada, but rely on charitable donations, government grants and contracts to deliver their work.
To inspire highly collaborative partnerships for learning and action, which enhance our collective capacity to sustain the life and spirit of Georgian Bay.
Our mission is to nurture a balance between humans and nature in the Georgian Bay Biosphere region.
We respect all life & all perspectives. We value knowledge-based learning that is sensitive to local context. We strive for inclusion, compassion and curiosity. We model innovation, adaptation and learning by doing. We are rooted in a sense of place and responsibility to future generations.
Cultural, racial, linguistic, economic, religious, and social diversity should be respected and reflected throughout our work. We strive to be an anti-racist organization and respect the many intersections of human experience. We aim to integrate diverse perspectives into the work we do and consistently learn how to nurture an environment that is inclusive. And we honour the truth of Indigenous experience and seek to walk a path of respect and reconciliation.
Sustainable communities can only be achieved by working with other groups and organizations committed to the same goals. Our work necessitates creating partnerships, building networks, facilitating dialogue and coordinating programs with others.
Our goal is to help inform, educate, facilitate and provide leadership where it is needed. We take a balanced perspective to understand the “big picture” of activities that support conservation and sustainability in the region.
We carry out our mission by using our networking skills to identify opportunities for collaboration.
We help people engage with complex problems together in order to protect the environment and create vibrant communities.
Our team provides the logistical and planning support for social innovation that is required to tackle complex problems – from climate change to food security, ecosystem health to economic development. We are facilitators for a more sustainable region. Join us today, become a Biosphere member.
“Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”Brundtland Commission, 1989
2004 UNESCO Nomination
2014 Self Study for UNESCO
2019-2025 Strategic Plan
You can read about our program highlights and see your donations at work in our most recent annual report.
UNESCO Biosphere FAQs
Biosphere reserves are internationally recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Biosphere reserves are experiments in sustainable development where conservation activities are combined with ongoing economic and community development and their experiences are showcased to the world.
All UNESCO biosphere reserves are meant to be models of sustainable development by:
- Contributing to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species, and biodiversity
- Fostering sustainable development, and
- Supporting environmental education, training, research, and monitoring.
No, it is not a wilderness area or land set aside to exclude people or their activities. For UNESCO’s world biosphere reserve program a special geographic area is recognized for its unique environment where communities are committed to living in balance with nature. Biosphere reserve organizations have no legal or regulatory powers and they do not affect existing private property, municipal jurisdictions, Treaty/Crown Lands or land claims. However, each biosphere reserve must contain “core protected areas” such as provincial or national parks. View a full map of the biosphere reserve.
As explained on UNESCO’s website the origin of Biosphere Reserves started in 1968 at the “Biosphere Conference”. As the first intergovernmental conference regarding how to balance the need for conservation and the need to develop natural resources, this foreshadowed the modern day concept of sustainable development. This conference was instrumental in the start of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program that started in 1970. One of the original Man and the Biosphere objectives was to establish a coordinated global network of sites representing all of the major ecosystems of the planet. As a result of this goal, the idea of biosphere reserves was started, they are representative landscapes in which genetic resources can be protected, and where research on ecosystems as well as monitoring and training work can be conducted. In reference to the programs name these sites were called “Biosphere Reserves”. Read more about the Man and the Biosphere program.
The 18 biosphere reserves in Canada are listed below along with the province or territory that it is in and their year of designation:
- Mont Saint-Hilaire- Quebec 1978
- Waterton- Alberta 1979
- Long Point- Ontario 1986
- Riding Mountain- Manitoba 1986
- Charlevoix- Quebec 1988
- Niagara Escarpment- Ontario 1990
- Clayoquot Sound- British Columbia 2000
- Mount Arrowsmith- British Columbia 2000
- Redberry Lake- Saskatchewan 2000
- Lac-Saint-Pierre- Quebec 2000
- Southwest Nova- Nova Scotia 2001
- Frontenac Arch- Ontario 2002
- Georgian Bay- Ontario 2004
- Fundy- New Brunswick 2007
- Manicouagan Uapishka- Quebec 2007
- Bras d’Or Lake- Nova Scotia 2011
- Tsá Tué- Northwest Territories 2016
- Beaver Hills- Alberta 2016
- Howe Sound – British Columbia 2021
The Georgian Bay Biosphere FAQs
Designated by UNESCO in 2004, the Georgian Bay Biosphere (GBB) is one of over 660 biosphere reserves throughout the world and one of 18 in Canada. The eastern coast of Georgian Bay is also known as the “30,000 Islands” and is considered the world’s largest freshwater archipelago.
The Georgian Bay Biosphere covers 347,000 hectares of shoreline ecosystem stretching from the Severn River to the French River. It contains over 50 species of animals and plants that are at risk in Canada and Ontario.
GBB acknowledges the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and celebrates Indigenous languages within the GBB region. We are active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with over 10,000 followers: @GBayBiosphere.
The GBB has a volunteer Board of Directors that meets monthly to advise on and steer the goals of the GBB. Members of the public who are passionate about Georgian Bay can apply to volunteer as Directors and elected at an Annual General Meeting.
As a registered charity, the GBB has constitutional documents including Letters Patent for incorporation and Bylaws that govern the corporation. GBB is supported by several full-time employees, interns and project staff.
Like other charities, the GBB relies on grants, members, and donations to achieve its mandate. GBB does not receive any funding from UNESCO nor any operating funds from provincial or federal governments. It competes for project funding through grant applications. GBB also holds several fundraisers each year.
The GBB’s Cultural Advisory Circle shares Indigenous perspectives and builds a network of groups across our diverse communities. We support Indigenous language revitalization through youth, elder, and community activities. We are honoured to participate in powwows and other cultural ceremonies, and we are learning how to put reconciliation into action.
Some of the main education programs are the lessons-in-a-backpack program that encourages the use of school grounds for nature education, and the kids-in-the-biosphere program which is designed to encourage kids and their families to learn more about Georgian Bay.
Additionally, our Best for the Biosphere guide provides information to community members on how to use their gardens to provide habitat for wildlife and native plants, and our Life on the Bay guide is for property owners interested in reducing their environmental impact.
Furthermore, our ongoing State of the Bay project works to track and make sense of changing environmental trends and to provide that information to the public in a meaningful way through our ecosystem report published every five years (2013 and 2018).
The role of the GBB is to educate, support research and monitoring, and to increase communication and awareness about the biosphere region. We are a non-advocacy group; we highlight best practices and promote them. While we are often approached to take a ‘stance’ on particular issues or sign petitions, we often do not have the required expertise, nor do we have the jurisdiction to make decisions; instead, we encourage sharing knowledge in community dialogue.
No, the GBB is separate from other organizations like the Georgian Bay Land Trust, the Georgian Bay Association, and Georgian Bay Forever. However, working with partners is an important part of our mandate. We communicate regularly with the above-mentioned and other groups to ensure collaboration, efficient use of resources, and avoid duplication. As a group, we work together on larger-scale projects that can fulfill all of our mandates.
Biosphere reserves are important to conserve the biodiversity of species from plants and animals to micro-organisms. These living things make up the biosphere and while we need to build strong economies and develop resources we also need to maintain natural systems and the services they provide for generations to come. The GBB designs tools to integrate development and conservation through our education and outreach programs. The GBB and the World Network of Biosphere Reserves are in place to preserve globally-significant landscapes and to encourage sustainable development.