World Heritage Protection Extended to Five Natural Sites

PARIS, France, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - Five new natural sites were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List by the UN body's World Heritage Committee meeting at its Paris headquarters last week. The newly protected natural sites were listed along with 19 new cultural sites, some of which are also valued for their natural features.

The World Heritage List compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) committee now numbers 754 sites, including 149 natural, and 582 cultural and 23 mixed sites of outstanding universal value.


Rich in ancient fossils, Monte San Giorgio in Switzerland is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List. (Photos courtesy UNESCO)
The new natural sites are - Australia's Purnululu National Park, Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas in China, Uvs Nuur Basin in both the Russian Federation and Mongolia, Monte San Giorgio in Switzerland, and Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam.

The committee also extended one natural site that is already inscribed on the World Heritage List to cover a greater area, the Central Amazon Conservation Complex in Brazil.

One natural and two cultural sites were determined by the committee to be in grave danger. On Friday the committee inscribed three sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger - the Walled City of Baku in Azerbaijan, Comoé National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, and Nepal's Kathmandu Valley. The List of World Heritage in Danger today numbers 35 sites throughout the world.

Comoé National Park, known for its great plant biodiversity, was first was placed on the World Heritage List in 1983. It is one of the largest protected areas in West Africa, but the present unrest in Côte d’Ivoire is having an adverse effect on the site, the committee said. Other dangers are the poaching of wildlife and fires caused by poachers, overgrazing by large cattle herds and the absence of effective management.

The Kathmandu Valley first was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 as a cultural site. It was then composed of seven zones with monuments surrounded by traditional buildings. The royal city centers of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, were examples of exceptional Newari architectural design, which has disappeared due to uncontrolled urban development.

In Azerbaijan, the Walled City of Baku is built on a site inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. It shows evidence of Zoroastrian, Sassanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence in cultural continuity. The site was damaged during the earthquake of November 2000 and is increasingly affected by the pressure of urban development, the absence of conservation policies and by what the committee called "dubious restoration efforts." South Africa

Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in South Africa (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
Considered a cultural site, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in South Africa was listed by the committee Thursday, a move that was welcomed by South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Mohammed Valli Moosa, who submitted the nomination to UNESCO in January 2002.

Mapungubwe is situated at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers in South Africa's Limpopo Province, a core area of the Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. It links up to reserves in Botswana and Zimbabwe, as well as privately owned reserves on the South African side.

Successive capitals of Mapungubwe civilization dominated the area between about 900 and 1290 AD. At its peak there were some 5,000 people living at Mapungubwe, and it has been called the first Southern African kingdom.

"The history of Mapungubwe will play a key role in the African Renaissance, and the rewriting of Southern African history, thereby promoting regional partnership" said Moosa. "Slowly but surely, the richness of South Africa's past is occupying the global agenda."

Moosa says sustainability will be achieved at the Mapungubwe site by increasing tourism flows, making the heritage site and the Transfrontier Conservation Area more financially viable.

Australia's newly protected natural site, the 239,723 hectare Purnululu National Park is located in the state of Western Australia. It contains the Bungle Bungle Range composed of Devonian age quartz sandstone eroded over a period of 20 million years into a series of beehive shaped cones, with steeply sloping surfaces marked by regular horizontal bands of dark gray crust made up of single celled photosynthetic organisms.


Unique geologic formations in Australia's Purnululu National Park (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
The Bungle Bungles are, by far, the most outstanding example of cone karst in sandstones anywhere in the world, says the World Heritage Committee, and they owe their existence and uniqueness to interacting geological, biological, erosional and climatic phenomena.

In China, the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas consist of seven geographical clusters of protected areas within the boundaries of the Three Parallel Rivers National Park, in the mountainous northwest of Yunnan province.

The 1.7 million hectare site features sections of the upper reaches of three of the great rivers of Asia - the Yangtze (Jinsha), the Mekong and the Salween. They run roughly parallel, north to south, through steep gorges which, in places, are 3,000 meters deep and are bordered by glaciated peaks more than 6,000 meters high. The World Heritage Committee calls this site "an epicentre of Chinese biodiversity" and one of the most biodiverse temperate regions of the world.

The farthest north of the enclosed basins of Central Asia, the Uvs Nuur Basin extends over 1,068,853 hectares in Mongolia and Russia. It is named for the Uvs Nuur Lake, a large, shallow, saline lake, important for migrating birds, waterfowl, and seabirds.


Sheep graze in the Uvs Nuur Basin as they have for thousands of years. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
The Uvs Nuur site is made up of 12 clusters representing the major biomes of eastern Eurasia. The steppe ecosystem supports a rich diversity of birds and the desert is home to a number of rare gerbils, jerboas, and the marbled polecat. The mountains are important refuges for the globally endangered snow leopard, mountain sheep, known as argali, and the Asiatic ibex.

The closed salt lake system of Uvs Nuur is of international scientific importance, the committee states, because of its climatic and hydrological patterns. Because of the unchanging nature of the nomadic pastoral use of the grasslands within the basin over thousands of years, current research programs may unravel the rate at which the lake has become saline and rich in mineral and organic nutrients that promote a proliferation of plant life, especially algae.

The unique geophysical and biological characteristics of the basin are responsible for its selection by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program as a site for monitoring global warming.

Monte San Giorgio in Switzerland is a pyramid shaped, wooded mountain peak 1,096 meters above sea level. Located to the south of Lake Lugano in Canton Ticino it is regarded as the best fossil record of marine life from the Mid-Triassic Period 245 to 230 million years ago.

More than 10,000 fossil specimens have been found at Monte San Giorgio including large, articulated skeletons up to six meters in length. They represent many ancient species such as ichthyosaurs, nothosaurs, placodonts, and a giraffe necked saurian called Tanystropheus.

Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam is described by the World Heritage Committee as a vast area of dramatic, forested highland karst landscape extending to the border of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.


Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
The geologically diverse area includes spectacular formations including 65 kilometers of caves and underground rivers. The reserve is covered by tropical forest, with a high level of biodiversity and numerous species found nowhere else on Earth. Preliminary surveys of animal life have identified 461 vertebrate species.

The plateau is one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in southeast Asia, the committee said. "Phong Nha displays an impressive amount of evidence of Earth's history. It is a site of very great importance for increasing our understanding of the geologic, geomorphic and geo-chronological history of the region."

Considered a cultural site, the United Kingdom's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew were placed on the World Heritage List during this session. The historic landscape garden features elements that illustrate the art of gardens from the 18th to the 20th centuries. The gardens house botanic collections - conserved plants, living plants and documents - which have been enriched through the centuries. Since their creation in 1759, the gardens have made a "significant and uninterrupted contribution to the study of plant diversity and botanic economics," the committee said.

The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, better known as the World Heritage Convention, was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972. To date, 175 countries have adhered to the convention, making it one of the most universal international legal instruments for the protection of the cultural and natural heritage.

By signing the convention, each country pledges to conserve the sites situated on its territory, some of which may be recognized as World Heritage. Their preservation for future generations then becomes a responsibility shared by the international community as a whole.