UNESCO on Wednesday added 20 new sites in 21 countries, including Saudi Arabia, to its global network of biosphere reserves, the UN agency's designation for specially protected regions.
New biosphere reserves are designated each year to promote sustainable development, protect terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems and encourage conservation.
In Saudi Arabia, the Juzur Farasan Biosphere Reserve is an 820,000 hectares archipelago located at the extreme southwest of the country.
The islands are home to threatened red mangrove Rhizophora mucronate, the largest population of Idmi gazelle in the country and various species of seabirds, marine species and reptiles.
Other protected sites approved this year are located in Libya, Lesotho, Canada, France, Korea, Italy, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Russia, Peru, Spain, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
In Libya, the 83,060 hectares Ashaafean Biosphere Reserve is located in the north-eastern part of the Nafusa Mountain.
With "dry woodlands and steppe grasslands to the north and hyper-arid southern zones in the Sahara Desert", the area is home to endangered species, such as the Striped hyena and the Land tortoise.
"The International Coordinating Council of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program... approved these additions along with the extension or re-zoning of two existing biosphere reserves (in Italy and Chile)," the agency said in a statement.
Biosphere reserves are nominated by governments and remain under their jurisdiction once approved.
With 25 sites approved last year, the latest additions bring the total number of reserves to 727 in 131 countries -- a zone covering nearly five percent of the planet.
A draft treaty to be discussed at an upcoming UN biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, proposes that 30 percent of the planet's lands and oceans become protected areas by 2030.