UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites Face More Threats

QUEBEC CITY, Canada, June 30, 2008 (ENS) – The World Heritage Committee will consider the requests made by governments for inscription of 13 new natural sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List when it meets here Wednesday for its annual session.

During this year’s meeting, hosted by Canada to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, the committee will consider Canada’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs among the 13 natural and 34 cultural sites proposed for listing in countries around the world.

This nearly complete skeleton of a
type of ancient amphibian known as
an anthracosaur was found at Joggins.
(Photo courtesy Fossils of Nova Scotia)

The fossil cliffs of Joggins are located near the head of the Bay of Fundy in the province of Nova Scotia. This area is subjected to some of the world’s highest tides, over 15 meters (49 feet). The tidal action causes steady erosion of the 23 meter (75 foot) high cliffs, constantly revealing new fossils.

Also under consideration is the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico where millions of butterflies migrate for the winter from Canada and the United States. Illegal loggers have taken their toll of the forests where the monarchs winter but now the United States, Canada and Mexico have jointly decided to protect the butterfly’s migration route and destinations.

The committee will also review the state of conservation of the 30 World Heritage sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger and may decide to add new sites to that list of properties whose preservation requires special attention.

The List in Danger features sites which are threatened by problems such as natural disasters, pillaging, pollution, and poorly managed mass tourism that may have a negative impact on the universal values for which they were inscribed on the World Heritage List.

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, advises the Committee on which natural and mixed sites should be added to the List. Together with UNESCO, IUCN also reports on the state of conservation of some 60 sites under threat, a number of which received joint monitoring missions during the past year.

“Natural World Heritage sites across the world are facing more and more threats,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, director general of IUCN. “Mining, uncontrolled tourism and drastically declining wildlife populations are all taking their toll on these sites. The global community must do more to protect these priceless natural areas.”

Existing World Heritage sites that are facing serious threats include Machu Picchu in Peru, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tourists at Machu Picchu in
Peru (Photo by Preston Theler)

Machu Picchu, which lies at the end of the Inca Trail in the Andes, is threatened by high visitor numbers, a lack of control over their entry to Machu Picchu, and uncontrolled growth of the nearby town, Aguas Calientes.

There has been no public information about the very real threats of landslide, fire, building collapse and health risks associated with overnight stays in Aguas Calientes.

Security measures taken over the last five months have failed to stop an increase in the number of visitors reaching Machu Picchu via unauthorized paths in the western part of the site. IUCN recommends this site is added to the list of World Heritage sites in danger.

Placed on the list of World Heritage sites in danger last year, the Galapagos Islands continue to face threats from the large numbers of tourists that visit each year, illegal fishing and high and unregulated immigration. They are also under threat from introduced species, including goats, pigs, cows and hundreds of species of plants, although some have been removed from certain islands. IUCN recommends the Galapagos Islands stay on the danger list.

Virunga National Park has been on the list of World Heritage sites in danger since 1994. It faces threats from refugees, who set up home in the park, armed militia, and continued poaching and deforestation, particularly for fuel and illegal charcoal production.

In 2007, 11 gorillas were slaughtered in Virunga, out of the 750 that remain in the wild. A joint monitoring mission by IUCN and UNESCO was organized.

The monitors recommended urgent action to withdraw non-strategic military postings, stop all production of charcoal and improve security in the park and on its periphery. IUCN recommends it stays on the danger list.

“World Heritage sites are supposed to be the creme de la creme of what the world has to offer – we should be taking better care of them,” says David Sheppard, head of IUCN’s Protected Areas Programme. “I hope this World Heritage Committee will take the threats we have identified seriously and call on the states responsible to take action to save World Heritage sites in trouble.”

Other existing World Heritage sites that will be reported on include the Western Caucasus in the Russian Federation, and Everglades National Park in the United States.

The Western Caucasus is one of the few large mountain areas of Europe that has not experienced significant human impact, but developments for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games pose a major potential threat to the site.

A joint IUCN and UNESCO mission found that the Sliding Centre for the luge and bobsleigh events, the mountain Olympic village, and related infrastructure, as currently proposed, would affect some areas within the property, the boundary of the property, and winter wildlife feeding grounds and migration corridors of wildlife from the property. Roads and illegal logging also pose threats.

An American alligator in Everglades
National Park (Photo by Bill Swindaman)

Everglades National Park was removed from the list of World Heritage sites in danger last year, against IUCN’s advice. It had been on the danger list since 1993 and in IUCN’s opinion it still faces threats.

Urban encroachment, agricultural fertilizer, mercury contamination of fish and wildlife and lower water levels due to flood controls threaten the Everglades. The park is also at serious risk from climate change and sea-level rise. IUCN calls on the United States to carry out a vulnerability assessment and develop a risk reduction strategy for this.

Other natural properties submitted for inscription to the World Heritage List are: Quarry of the Fabrica Nacional de Cementos S.A. (FANCESA), Cal Orck’O, Sucre, Departamento Chuquisaca (Bolivia), an extension to the Pirin National Park (Bulgaria), Mount Sanqingshan National Park (China), Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France), Surtsey (Iceland), Bradyseism in Phlegraean Area (Italy), Saryarka – Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan (Kazakhstan), Hovsgol Lake and its Watershed (Mongolia), Putorana Plateau Nature Complex (Russia), Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona (Switzerland), and the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen).

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