Eight New Natural Wonders Inscribed on World Heritage List

QUEBEC CITY, Canada, July 8, 2008 (ENS) – Eight new natural sites were added to the World Heritage List today by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Quebec City.

The new sites include the Socotra Archipelago in Yemen, Canada’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs, the French Lagoons of New Caledonia, Saryarka in Northern Kazakhstan, Mount Sanqingshan National Park in China, Surtsey in Iceland, the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona, and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.

“These eight stunning natural sites are amongst the best of what nature has to offer,” said David Sheppard, head of the Protected Areas Programme with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, which undertakes technical evaluations of the natural values of the sites nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List.

“Each site has been carefully inspected by IUCN and thoroughly deserves a place on the prestigious World Heritage List,” Sheppard said.

An island in Yemen’s Socotra Archipelago
(Photo by Khaldoun Al Omari courtesy IUCN)

Yemen’s Socotra Archipelago has been dubbed the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean for its exceptional biodiversity of plants and animals. About 37 percent of Socotra’s plant species, 90 percent of its reptile species and 95 percent of its land snail species are found nowhere else in the world.

The nature sanctuaries, national parks and areas of special botanical interest in the archipelago encompass about 75 percent of its total land area. The marine life of Socotra is also very diverse, with 253 species of reef-building corals, 730 species of coastal fish and 300 species of crab, lobster and shrimp.

Canada’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs are the world reference site for the Coal Age, which is about 300 million years ago. The site contains fossils of the first reptiles in Earth’s history. They are the earliest representatives of the amniotes, a group of animals that includes reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals.

“This is a fascinating site where you can literally see a slice of history,” says Tim Badman, World Heritage Advisor of IUCN’s Protected Areas Programme. “The Joggins Fossil Cliffs contain the best and most complete known fossil record of terrestrial life in the iconic Coal Age. You can actually see the remains of the first reptiles in the Earth’s history, as well as fossil trees, animals and plants.”

The lagoons and reefs of New Caldonia in
the Pacific Ocean (Photo by Dan
Laffoley courtesy IUCN)

The tropical lagoons and coral reefs of New Caledonia form one of the three most extensive reef systems in the world. They are inhabited by an exceptional variety of coral and fish species and have intact ecosystems with healthy populations of big fish and top predators.

These lagoons provide habitat to a number of threatened fish, turtles, and marine mammals, including the third largest population of dugongs in the world.

Sheppard said, “They are home to dramatic displays of coral diversity, massive coral structures, together with arches, caves and major fissures in the reefs. There is nothing else quite like them in the world.”

Kazakhstan’s Saryarka is an undisturbed area of Central Asian steppe and lakes in the Korgalzhyn and Naurzum State Nature Reserves. These are key stopover points for globally threatened bird species and provide feeding grounds for up to 16 million birds. This area also is inhabited by the critically endangered saiga antelope.

Mount Sanqingshan National Park in
China (Photo by Liu Feng courtesy UNESCO)

Mount Sanqingshan National Park in China was recommended for its outstanding natural beauty. Its forested and fantastically shaped granite pillars and peaks can be appreciated by visitors from suspended walking trails.

Surtsey is a new island in Iceland that was formed by volcanic eruptions from 1963 through 1967. It offers a unique scientific record of the process of colonization of land by plants and animals.

Part of the evolution of Surtsey is the process of coastal erosion which has already halved the area of the island and over time is predicted to remove another two thirds, leaving only the most resistant core.

“Not only is Surtsey geographically isolated, but it has been legally protected from its birth, providing the world with a pristine natural laboratory, free from human interference,” says Badman. “Above all, because of its continuing protection, Surtsey will continue to provide invaluable data on biological colonization long into the future.”

The Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona, which shows how mountains were formed through continental collisions, has been studied since the 18th century. The clear exposure of the Glarus Overthrust, a line where older rocks overlay younger rocks, is a key feature.

The exposures of the rocks below and above this feature are visible in three dimensions and, taken together, have contributed to the understanding of mountain building tectonics.

The three core zones of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve protect eight overwintering colonies of the monarch butterfly in the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico. Perhaps a billion monarch butterflies overwinter here in close-packed clusters every year after a 3,500 to 4,500 kilometer journey from points in the United States and Canada.

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