Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 19 June 2013 (IUCN) – East Rennell in the Solomon Islands has been added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, following the advice of IUCN, the official World Heritage advisory body on nature. Lake Turkana National Parks in Kenya and Virgin Komi Forests in Russia were not added to the Danger List, against IUCN’s advice.
According to IUCN’s report, the ongoing logging on the western part of Rennell island – only 12 km from the World Heritage site –threatens major damage to the forest’s ecology. The introduction of invasive species by logging and container ships also constitutes a serious danger to endemic wildlife. Black Ship Rat (Rattus rattus) has already been observed on the western part of the island. IUCN has advised for an emergency action plan and the government of Solomon Islands has committed to deliver an urgent study on the impacts of logging on Rennell Island.
East Rennell, declared a World Heritage site in 1998, is the largest raised coral atoll in the world and its dense forest has a canopy averaging 20 metres in height. The World Heritage site makes up the south-eastern half of Rennell Island, the southernmost island in the Solomon Islands in the western Pacific.
The Virgin Komi Forests, Russia’s first natural site added to the World Heritage List in 1995, has not been inscribed on the ‘danger list’ by the World Heritage Committee, currently meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. IUCN had been recommending danger listing for the area since 2011, after a joint IUCN/World Heritage Centre mission identified plans for gold mining.
The World Heritage Committee decided also not to add Lake Turkana National Parks to the List of World Heritage in Danger, for second year in a row. The site is threatened by a dam construction on the Omo River in Ethiopia, which provides 80% of lake’s freshwater.
Last year, IUCN’s recommendation was overruled to allow more time for a monitoring mission to visit Ethiopia. Although necessary action was not taken as requested in 2012, both Kenya and Ethiopia expressed their willingness to address international concerns.
“Adding East Rennell to the list of World Heritage in Danger is a positive step in the face of major challenges to this site and IUCN sees it as a chance to marshal international support and join forces with the Solomons on a clear action plan to conserve the island’s unique values” says Peter Shadie, Deputy Head of IUCN’s delegation to the Committee.
With the inscription of East Rennell on the danger list, the total number of threatened natural World Heritage sites climbs to 18, almost 9% of all natural World Heritage sites.
This year’s Committee also discussed action required to prevent danger listing the Great Barrier Reef in 2014. An IUCN/World Heritage Centre report revealed that coastal development, port infrastructure and poor water quality pose serious threats to the reef ecosystem, its plants and species such as sea grass, the green turtle and the dugong. Australia was asked to increase its commitment to reef protection and the site will be re-examined by the Committee in 2014.
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