BONN, Germany, July 3, 2015 (ENS) – Jamaica’s rugged Blue and John Crow Mountains, where thick forests once sheltered fleeing slaves, today became the Caribbean island nation’s first World Heritage site.
Extensions of South Africa’s Cape Floral Region Protected Areas and Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park were also approved at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting taking place in Bonn through July 8.
Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains has been inscribed as a “mixed” site, in recognition of both the area’s natural uniqueness and its cultural values.
The site encompasses a forested, mountainous region in Jamaica’s southeast, which provided refuge first for the indigenous Tainos fleeing slavery and then for escaped African slaves known as Maroons. They resisted the European colonial system in this isolated region by establishing a network of trails, hiding places and settlements, which form the Nanny Town Heritage Route.
The dense forests offered the 18th century Maroons everything they needed for survival. They developed strong spiritual connections with the mountains, still manifest through the intangible cultural legacy of, for example, religious rites, traditional medicine and dances. Today, local Maroon communities still identify with the area and are actively engaged in its management.
Combining Jamaica’s highest peak with a contrasting limestone plateau, the site contains the greatest diversity of ecosystems and habitats on the island, also among the most intact in the Caribbean region.
The site is a biodiversity hotspot for the Caribbean Islands with a high proportion of unique plant species, especially lichens, mosses and flowering plants.
Half of the flowering plants growing at 900 to 1,000 meters on the John Crow plateau are found nowhere else in the world, while unique montane tropical forests hang on the steep slopes and rugged landscape of the Blue Mountains.
“The Blue and John Crow Mountains in Jamaica is a jewel of the Caribbean displaying exceptionally pristine nature,” says Tim Badman, director of the World Heritage Programme with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, which is responsible for evaluating the natural values of candidate sites.
“We are delighted that a site so valuable in the eyes of the local communities has been recognized for its importance to the whole humanity,” said Badman. “This inscription also helps to build a World Heritage list which can represent the world’s regions in a more balanced way.”
The World Heritage Committee this morning also approved the extension of two natural sites inscribed on the World Heritage List: Cape Floral Region Protected Areas in South Africa and Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam.
The World Heritage Committee doubled the extent of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas in South Africa, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004, from 553,000 to 1,094,741 hectares.
Located at the southwestern extremity of South Africa, it is one of the world’s great centers of terrestrial biodiversity. The extended site includes national parks, nature reserves, wilderness areas, State forests and mountain catchment areas.
These elements add endemic species associated with the Fynbos vegetation, a fine-leaved shrubland adapted to both a Mediterranean climate and periodic fires, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region.
While the 13 protected areas that make up the site represent less than 0.5 percent of Africa’s landmass, together they host 20 percent of the continent’s plants. About 70 percent of the 9,000 plant species are found nowhere else on Earth. The extension increases the number of vegetation types under World Heritage protection and allows better connectivity among all the site’s components.
The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2003 for its geological values, originally covered 85,754 hectares. With this extension, the site covers a total surface area of 126,236 hectares – a 46 percent increase – and shares a boundary with the Hin Namno Nature Reserve in Laos.
The park is shaped by limestone plateaux and tropical forests harbors a high level of biodiversity and many endemic species. It features great geological diversity and offers spectacular phenomena, including a large number of caves and underground rivers, said the World Heritage Committee.
The extension ensures a more coherent ecosystem. It now includes protection for ecological and biodiversity values while providing additional protection to the water catchment areas that are of vital importance for the integrity of limestone landscapes.
Located in the Annamite ecoregion hotspot, the extended area is home to globally threatened species, including large mammals such as the Clouded Leopard, the Large-antlered Muntjac and the critically endangered Saola. The park is of particular importance for the conservation of endangered primates, such as the Red-shanked Douc Langur and the Southern White-cheeked Gibbon.
Several discoveries were made within Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park since its inscription, including the Son Doong cave, the world’s largest cave by volume, as well as new species of plants and animals, such as cave scorpions, fish, lizards, snakes and turtles.
The number of amphibians and reptiles recorded in the site increased from 96 in 2000 to 137 in 2006, and the committee expects more species to be discovered in the area.