Exceptional Natural Sites Proposed for World Heritage Status

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, June 18, 2007 (ENS) – The stone forests of China, a rainforest time capsule in Madagascar, and lava tube caves on a South Korean island are among the outstanding natural sites recommended for inscription on the World Heritage List to preserve for all of humanity. A UN committee will decide which sites make the cut when it meets here later this week.

These natural wonders are recommended by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, the official advisory body on natural World Heritage sites. They will be considered for inclusion on the list by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand, from June 23 through July 2.

The World Heritage Committee Chair Tumu Te Heuheu said, "One of my goals for the 31st session of the World Heritage Committee is to build an appreciation of our global heritage in its broadest context. I also hope to help showcase the natural and cultural beauty and magnificence of the Pacific region."

Paramount Chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, Tumu Te Heuheu has been New Zealand’s World Heritage representative for the past 10 years. (Photo courtesy World Heritage Committee)
Over 600 international delegates are expected to attend the Christchurch meeting, which is closed to the public. The Committee will consider new site nominations, sites in danger, site management and protection, and will acknowledge national tentative lists for possible future World Heritage sites.

At the meeting it is decided whether or not nominated sites will attain World Heritage list status. New Zealand will not put forward any sites for nomination this year but will be submitting a tentative list of sites that it intends to nominate for World Heritage listing in the future.

The 45 sites to be considered for inscription this year include 11 natural sites, 32 cultural sites, and two sites of mixed natural and cultural value. A total of 39 countries are presenting sites for consideration this year.

The IUCN has carried out expert missions to 12 sites nominated for inclusion on the World Heritage List and will recommend to the Committee five new natural sites, the extension of one natural site, and one mixed site.

UNESCO's 1972 Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage encourages international cooperation to safeguard the common heritage of humanity. With 184 member governments, it is one of the most widely ratified international legal instruments.

When they sign the Convention, countries commit to preserve sites on the World Heritage List, as well as sites of national and regional importance, by providing a legal and regulatory framework for their protection.

At the Christchurch session, the World Heritage Committee also will examine a strategy to reduce risks from disasters and the impacts of climate change on World Heritage sites.

The concept of "outstanding universal value" which is the basis for the inscription of sites on the World Heritage List will be re-examined.

Thirteen sites are now on the list of World Heritage in Danger - threatened by civil unrest, illegal activities such as poaching, mining and logging, inadequate funding, or poor management. The Committee will consider actions to protect these sites from harm.

The IUCN, whose independent advisory role is enshrined in the text of the World Heritage Convention, will report to the Committee on 14 sites where it conducted joint monitoring missions with UNESCO.

The missions included Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, where tourist numbers have increased from 40,000 to more than 120,000 since 1991f, and the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman, where the size of the reserve has been reduced by 90 percent.

IUCN will also report on the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, the second largest protected area in Africa, covering an area larger than Denmark. This reserve benefits from keeping 50 percent of the revenue from hunting concessions, using the funds to manage the park and to develop and maintain tourism and park infrastructure.

New natural sites the IUCN recommends for inscription on the World Heritage List:

South China Karst, China

The Stone Forest, or Shilin, is one of China's most famous scenic spots. This collection of grey limestone pillars were split by rainwater and eroded into evocative shapes. (Photo courtesy Far Horizons)
The South China Karst is unrivalled for the diversity of its karst features which extend over 500,000 square kilometers. Karst is irregular limestone formations in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns.

There were seven protected areas in three separate clusters up for nomination. IUCN is recommending two clusters, Shilin and Libo, for inscription on the World Heritage List.

The stone forests of Shilin are considered exceptional natural phenomena and the tower karsts of Libo are seen as the world reference site for these types of karsts, the IUCN says.

Rainforests of Atsinanana, Madagascar

These forests are critically important for maintaining the island’s unique plants and animals, 80 to 90 percent of which can only be found in Madagascar and some of which date back to glacial periods.

Deforestation in the eastern part of the island has left just 8.5 percent of its original forests and IUCN says the proposed World Heritage site would protect this remaining habitat.

The site comprises a representative selection of the most important habitats of unique rainforest life, including many threatened and endemic plant and animal species.

Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes, South Korea

This shield volcano is about 1.2 million years old and rises to 1,950 meters with Mt. Hallasan, Korea’s highest peak. The Geomunoreum lava tube system is the most impressive and significant series of protected lava tube caves in the world and includes a spectacular array of stalactites and stalagmites.

The IUCN says the proposed World Heritage site is 18,846 hectares and covers 10.3 percent of the island.

Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians, Slovakia and Ukraine

Primeval Forest in Slovakia (Photo by Zdeno Vlach courtesy CSTS)
These forests are an outstanding example of undisturbed, complex temperate forests that represent the last remnants of the natural vegetation of Central Europe.

They demonstrate the most complete ecological patterns of European beech across a variety of environmental conditions.

The cluster contains different ecological types of beech forests from the sea shore and glacial plain landscapes up to limestone hills and middle mountains.

The IUCN says they contain an invaluable genetic reservoir of European beech and the many species associated with and dependent on the forest.

Teide National Park, Spain

On the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Teide (pronounced the same as Lady) National Park covers 18,990 hectares and includes rich and diverse volcanic features and landscapes concentrated in a spectacular setting, the IUCN says.

The park encompasses the world’s third tallest volcano, the 3,781 meter Teide-Pico Viejo, the highest peak in Spain.

The IUCN is recommending this park as "an excellent example of a mature, slow-moving and geologically complex volcanic system."

It is of global importance in providing diverse evidence of the geological processes that underpin the evolution of oceanic islands.

Natural site recommended for extension:

Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn, Switzerland

The current Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn World Heritage site covers 53,000 hectares on the territory of 15 communes in the Swiss Alps.

The proposed extension would increase the area by 53 percent to 82,400 hectares over 26 communes.

The site is the most glaciated part of the European Alps, containing Europe’s largest glacier and a range of classic glacial features. It provides an outstanding record of the geological processes that formed the High Alps, the IUCN says.

A diverse range of plants and animals is also represented in the site and plant colonization in the wake of retreating glaciers provides an excellent example of plant succession.

New mixed site recommended for inscription:

Ecosystem and Relic Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda, Gabon

This landscape represents a very unusual boundary between dense and well-conserved tropical rainforest and relict savannah environments, the IUCN explains.

The site preserves a record of biological evolution over the last 15,000 years in the rainforest-savannah transition zone.

Many threatened species of large mammals such as gorillas and elephants find refuge in Lopé-Okanda, making it one of the most outstanding areas of plant and forest diversity in the Congo Rainforest.

More information on the World Heritage Convention and the List of World Heritage sites can be found at: whc.unesco.org

New Zealand has three World Heritage sites that possess what the World Heritage Convention states as outstanding universal value.

Tongariro National Park was inscribed as a natural site in 1990, and was inscribed for associated cultural values in 1993, as the first World Heritage cultural landscape. The mountains at the heart of this park have cultural significance for indigenous Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between the community and its environment.

Te Wahipounamu, South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, was inscribed as a natural site in 1990. This area includes the Fiordland, Mount Aspiring, Westland and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Parks comprising 10 percent of New Zealand’s land mass.

The Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand were inscribed on the World Heritage List as a natural site in 1998. In the Southern Ocean, The Snares, Bounty, Antipodes, Auckland and Campbell Islands contain a wealth of biodiversity and a high density of rare wildlife populations.

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