UNESCO Protects Natural Areas of World Heritage Value

The Sun rises over Iran's Lut Desert, October 10, 2011 (Photo by Sergi Hill)


ISTANBUL, Turkey, July 18, 2016 (ENS) – The World Heritage Committee has inscribed nine new natural, or mixed natural and cultural, sites on the List of World Heritage: one transnational site – in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – and others in Canada, Chad, China, India, Iraq, Iran, Mexico and Sudan.

During its 40th session which opened on July 10 and concluded on Monday, the 21 member committee considered the recommendations of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, and adopted them.

“Among this year’s World Heritage inscriptions are some of the most impressive landscapes and most important natural areas for the conservation of iconic species on Earth,” said Peter Shadie, head of IUCN’s delegation at the World Heritage Committee. “Recognizing these exceptional places through the World Heritage Convention goes hand in hand with a commitment to secure the utmost quality of conservation management.”

The newly inscribed natural sites are:

Asian Black Bear, Dachigam Rehabilitation Centre, Jammu and Kashmir, May 2014 (Photo by Mike Prince)

Hubei Shennongjia (China) – Located in Hubei Province, in central-eastern China, the site consists of two components: Shennongding/Badong to the west and Laojunshan to the east. Hubei Shennongjia is one of three centers of biodiversity in China. It protects the largest primary forests remaining in Central China and provides habitat for many rare animal species, such as the Chinese Giant Salamander, the Golden or Snub-nosed Monkey, the Clouded Leopard, Common Leopard and the Asian Black Bear.

Mistaken Point (Canada) – This fossil site is located at the south-eastern tip of the island of Newfoundland, in eastern Canada. It consists of a narrow, 17 km-long strip of rugged coastal cliffs. Of deep marine origin, these cliffs date to the Edicarean Period (580-560 million years ago), representing the oldest known assemblages of large fossils anywhere. These fossils illustrate a watershed in the history of life on Earth: the appearance of large, biologically complex organisms, after almost three billion years of evolution dominated by micro-organisms.

Archipiélgo de Revillagigedo (Mexico) – Located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, this archipelago is made up of four remote islands and their surrounding waters: San Benedicto, Socorro, Roca Partida and Clarión. This archipelago is part of a submerged mountain range; the four islands are the peaks of volcanoes emerging above sea level. The islands provide critical habitat for wildlife and are of particular importance for seabirds. The surrounding waters are inhabited by whales, dolphins, manta rays and sharks.

Sanganeb Marine National Park and Dungonab Bay – Mukkawar Island Marine National Park (Sudan) – The site consists of two separate areas. Sanganeb is an isolated, coral reef structure in the central Red Sea and the only atoll, 25 km off the shoreline of Sudan. The second element includes Dungonab Bay and Mukkawar Island, situated 125 km north of Port Sudan. Its diverse system of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, beaches and islets provides a habitat for seabirds, marine mammals, fish, sharks, turtles and manta rays. Dungonab Bay also has a globally significant population of dugongs.

The Sun rises over Iran’s Lut Desert, October 10, 2011 (Photo by Sergi Hill)

Lut Desert (Iran) – The Lut Desert, or Dasht-e-Lut, is located in the southeast of the country. Between June and October, this arid subtropical area is swept by strong winds, which transport sediment and cause aeolian erosion on a colossal scale. Consequently, the site presents some of the most spectacular examples of massive corrugated ridges known as aeolian yardang landforms. It also contains extensive stony deserts and dune fields.

Western Tien-Shan (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan) – The transnational site is located in the Tien-Shan mountain system, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world. Western Tien-Shan extends from an altitude of 700 meters to 4,503 meters. The diverse landscapes are of global importance as centers of origin for cultivated fruit crops, a great diversity of forest types and many unique plant communities.

Three new mixed cultural and natural sites were designated:

Ennedi Massif: Natural and Cultural Landscape (Chad) – In the northeast of the country, the sandstone Ennedi Massif has been sculpted by water and wind erosion over time into a plateau featuring canyons and valleys that present a spectacular landscape marked by cliffs, natural arches and pitons.

In the largest canyons, the permanent presence of water plays an essential role in the Massif’s ecosystem, sustaining plants and animals as well as humans. Thousands of images have been painted and carved into the rock surfaces of caves, canyons and shelters, presenting one of the largest ensembles of rock art in the Sahara.

Khangchendzonga National Park (India) – Located at the heart of the Himalayan range in northern India in the State of Sikkim, the Khangchendzonga National Park includes a unique diversity of plains, valleys, lakes, glaciers and snow-capped mountains covered with ancient forests, including the world’s third highest peak, Mount Khangchendzonga.

Mythological stories are associated with this mountain and with a great number of natural elements – caves, rivers, lakes – that are the object of worship by the indigenous people of Sikkim. The sacred meanings of these stories and practices have been integrated with Buddhist beliefs and constitute the basis for Sikkimese identity.

The Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities (Iraq) – The Ahwar is made up of seven sites: three archaeological sites and four wetland marsh areas in southern Iraq.

The archaeological cities of Uruk and Ur and the Tell Eridu archaeological site remain from the Sumerian cities and settlements that developed in southern Mesopotamia between the fourth and the third millennium BCE in the marshy delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Ahwar of Southern Iraq, also known as the Iraqi Marshlands (Photo by Pennsylvania State University)

The Ahwar of Southern Iraq, also known as the Iraqi Marshlands, is one of the world’s largest inland delta systems, holding precious water in an extremely hot, dry environment.

The recognition of the Iraqi Marshes satisfies the nongovernmental advocacy group Save the Tigris And Iraqi Marshes Campaign. The group’s spokesman Toon Bijnens says protection of the Marshes “should be given top priority, since they face grave threats as a result of the continued construction of large dams on the Tigris River and its tributaries in Turkey and Iran.”

“The Ilisu Dam, as well as other associated dams currently under construction in Turkey, the Daryan Dam on the Sirwan River, and similar projects all endanger Iraq’s water resources and could ultimately lead to the disappearance of the Marshes,” said Bijnens.

In addition to these new inscriptions, the World Heritage Committee commended Australia’s management of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area in Australia’s island state of Tasmania.

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt MP said no mining or commercial logging, including harvesting of special species timbers, will be tolerated in any part of the site.

“The decision is a major milestone for Australia,” said Hunt. “It acknowledges the progress we have made in addressing past requests of the World Heritage Committee, and commends the commitment of the Australian and Tasmanian governments in having accepted all 20 recommendations of the November 2015 monitoring mission to the property.”

The mission’s recommendations will be implemented through the new management plan for the site in accordance with Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention.

The Australian government is providing A$575,000 to the Tasmanian government to help it work with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to compile more detailed information on the cultural values of the site.

The Tasmanian and Australian governments will work together to ensure the Tasmanian Wilderness continues to be managed

Hunt said, “The Australian and Tasmanian governments are fully committed to protecting the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage area and ensuring its integrity is maintained, and will continue to provide the resources necessary to support the effective management of this iconic natural and cultural heritage property.”

The World Heritage Committee also placed the five World Heritage sites of Libya on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of damage caused by the conflict affecting the country and the threat of further damage it poses.

The five sites are of cultural, rather than natural, distinction. They are: Archaeological Site of Cyrene, Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna, Archaeological Site of Sabratha, Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus and the Old Town of Ghadamès.

The Committee noted the high level of instability affecting the country and the fact that armed groups are present on these sites or in their immediate surroundings.

The List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which properties were inscribed on the World Heritage List and rally the support of the international community for their protection.

The World Heritage Fund amounts to US$3 million annually to support activities decided by the World Heritage Committee, related to international assistance, state of conservation and nominations.

It includes compulsory and voluntary contributions from the States Parties, as well as from private donations. The World Heritage Committee allocates funds according to the urgency of requests, priority being given to the most threatened sites.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2016. All rights reserved.


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