What is a biosphere?

A biosphere is an international site of excellence, recognised by UNESCO as an area of natural beauty where people live and work. Biospheres are places, just like our region, where active conservation sits alongside responsible development and people living sustainably.

Australia has nine biospheres. Across the world there are more than 680 UNESCO Biospheres in over 120 countries. Learn more about the UNESCO biosphere program

What does this mean for me (i.e. residents and businesses)?

A biosphere reserve is non-statutory. This means that as long as people are following local, state or federal laws then nothing needs to change. People can operate their business or enjoy the outdoors as they currently are, although continuing to adopt sustainable practices is encouraged.

There are many benefits associated with being a biosphere that Sunshine Coast residents can take advantage of. A biosphere credential, coupled with harnessing these benefits, will ensure our region adapts to change, while maintaining our special natural areas and our unique lifestyle.


Why do we want to be a biosphere?

Across our region, people are committed to finding the ‘sweet spot’ where sustainable development and active conservation are aligned. A biosphere credential aligns to our values and assets and enables us to continue as we are, with a focus on making sustainable, future-focused change. 

International recognition through the UNESCO Biosphere program brings opportunities to the Sunshine Coast. It provides a competitive advantage to facilitate sustainable growth along with a range of benefits to our economy, our lifestyle and our natural environment.

What might a proposed Sunshine Coast Biosphere look like?

Our proposed biosphere will have areas that are clear, simple and easy to understand.

The areas apply to the land in the local government area and the sea out to 3 nautical miles. They align with council’s existing Planning Scheme, state and federal planning policy and legislation. This ensures consistency and allows businesses, land and sea users to carry on, without change.

Live and Work Area

  • Multiple land-uses where people live and make a living.
  • Sustainable development and resource management practices are promoted and developed.
  • Green spaces, parks, waterways and beaches are key natural assets.

Manage and Care Area

  • Rural lifestyle and living areas where primary producers use the land for business.
  • Care is taken to manage land and sea activities, minimise impacts on Protect and Enhance Areas and to connect Protect and Enhance Areas with Live and Work Areas. 
  • Manage and Care Areas must surround Protect and Enhance Areas but can stand alone.
  • The width of the Manage and Care area must be at least 500 metres whenever possible to buffer the Protect and Enhance Areas. The 500 metre buffer width sits inside the Protect and Enhance Area (where there is a Live and Work Area immediately adjacent).

Special Manage and Care Area

  • These areas are highly valued, small protected areas that are surrounded by Live and Work Areas.
  • These small areas still remain legally protected, however, we recognise they need special care to minimise impacts. 

Protect and Enhance Area

  • A legally protected area that is publicly owned and devoted to long-term conservation.
  • It is of sufficient size (over 20 hectares) to meet conservation objectives.
  • Examples: larger national parks, part of some marine parks and council’s environment reserves.

What are the timings of the nomination process?

The application process for obtaining a UNESCO Biosphere credential takes many years. Pending the outcomes of community engagement, council will submit the nomination (on behalf of the community) to the Queensland Government towards the end of this year. The Queensland Government will forward it to the Australian Government who will submit the nomination to UNESCO. Two years later, in June 2021, we’ll learn of the outcome of our nomination from UNESCO. Council will keep you updated on progress.

What activities occur in the proposed biosphere areas?

A biosphere status is non-statutory. As long as you’re following local, state or federal laws you can continue as you are. Nothing needs to change.

The biosphere status is not intended to place restrictions upon business or industry. Rather, it is a recognition that our residents live, work and play within our beautiful natural environment. It will also allow residents and businesses to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities associated with a UNESCO Biosphere credential.

If a biosphere is non-statutory and nothing changes, then why are we doing it and what is the value?

Sunshine Coast Council has a clear vision for what we’re hoping to achieve for our region. A UNESCO Biosphere credential will support us to protect and enhance our lifestyle, our environment and our economy for future generations. It aligns with our vision to be Australia’s most sustainable region - healthy, smart, creative.

We are nominating the local government area for biosphere designation to leverage the benefits and opportunities that come with international recognition from a well-known and credible program, such as UNESCO’s Biosphere program.

What are the benefits and opportunities?

Benefits and opportunities include:

  • Further enhancing the national and international reputation of the Sunshine Coast and being able to leverage the benefits and opportunities that come with international recognition.
  • Helping to leverage economic opportunities including providing a significant point of difference for our agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism sectors.
  • Assisting to recognise and preserve our outstanding natural assets for current and future generations.

Through the process of community and key stakeholder engagement we seek to better understand and further develop the benefits and opportunities that a proposed biosphere will bring to the region. 

How will our proposed biosphere be different to other biospheres?

There are more than 680 biospheres around the world, including 9 in Australia. Each region that applies for biosphere status develops a nomination that is consistent with UNESCO’s biosphere program purpose and principles. The nomination must reflect the values, credentials, challenges and outcomes specific to each individual region. No two biospheres are the same. A proposed biosphere for the Sunshine Coast Council local government area is intended to be fit-for-purpose for our community, natural assets and economy.

What will the proposed governance model be?

To foster ownership and balance, an effective governance team should have strong community involvement and ongoing support from council. Though consultation with key stakeholders we plan to understand what they value to inform the development of a governance model that might be applied if the nomination should be successful.

It is intended that the governance model for the operation and management of a proposed biosphere on the Sunshine Coast will be fit-for-purpose for our people, our natural assets, our economy and our region.

Will community be involved in developing the nomination?

We’ve adapted some of the world’s best practice models to suit the Sunshine Coast context and seek to set up a reference group with community membership to provide advice for the region’s biosphere nomination. The reference group’s focus will be on social, cultural, economic and environmental values and assets.

We already have polices in place to support this governance approach, and have used this structure for other successful projects. It is intended that the reference group might have residents along with representatives from key business sectors. We’re especially calling for leaders of the tourism, forestry, agricultural, construction and property development sectors to be part of the reference group.

Is this going to limit development / growth on the coast?

A biosphere designation is non-statutory and does not over ride existing planning policy and legislation at any level of government. However, what a biosphere could do is assist to ensure that development and growth occurs in a responsible and sustainable way. The intent of UNESCO’s Biosphere program is that responsible and sustainable development sits along-side conservation and that is what we could achieve if the nomination is successful.

Does the proposed biosphere override the Planning Scheme?

No, a biosphere does not override the Sunshine Coast Council Planning Scheme 2014.

If successful, there is no need for council to amend our biosphere areas as land use changes. Council will keep track of how our areas change and report it to UNESCO at our 10-year review.

What is council’s role?

Strong leadership and support from government is a critical success factor in the world’s best practice models for the governance of biospheres.

Council is taking a leadership role in the development of the proposed biosphere nomination and will sponsor the submission of the nomination to the Queensland and Australian Governments.

This means that, pending the outcomes of community and key stakeholder engagement, council will submit the nomination (on behalf of the community) to the Queensland Government and then the Australian Government. It’s the Australian Government who will submit the nomination to UNESCO. Two years later, in June 2021, we’ll learn of the outcome of our nomination from UNESCO.

We’ll be seeking to set up a reference group, which may include community membership, to support the development of the nomination for the region. The purpose of the reference group would be to provide advice to council to guide the development of the nomination.

It is intended that the reference group might have residents along with representatives from key business sectors. We’re especially calling for leaders of the tourism, forestry, agricultural, construction and property development sectors to be part of the reference group.