Natural world heritage sites exemplify the world’s greatest areas of natural beauty, ecology, geology, and biodiversity. They are recognized internationally for their value as places with significance that is “so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.” Many of these areas also are a vital source of food, fuel, and water for rural communities, and provide a revenue stream for national economies through tourism and recreation. The livelihoods of some 11 million people are directly dependent on these areas.
There are 229 natural world heritage sites and they can be found in 96 countries. These include treasures such as the Everglades in Florida, the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Grand Canyon, and Machu Picchu. These iconic habitats, rich with culture, history, and biodiversity, are all meant to be protected under the United Nations’ world heritage site designation.
But according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund, many are under threat. Despite international protections, nearly half of the natural world heritage sites are threatened by development. The WWF reports that 114 of these sites are under threat from oil and gas development, mining, construction of large-scale infrastructure, illegal logging, overfishing, unsustainable water use, and other industrial activities.
The world heritage system is based on the notion of just how important these areas are for all humanity. If we want our children and our children’s children to be able to visit many of these places one day, we need to pressure government and industry to agree to cease development around world heritage sites.
Increasing protections for protected areas seems ironic, but that’s exactly what needs to happen.
Photo, posted September 25, 2014, courtesy of Tony Hisgett via Flickr.