Story | 18 Jul, 2016

World’s top areas for iconic species among new sites on the World Heritage List

The World Heritage Committee yesterday inscribed nine new natural World Heritage sites evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Committee followed IUCN’s advice to inscribe India’s Khangchendzonga National Park, a mixed natural and cultural site which includes the world’s third highest mountain; China’s Hubei Shennongjia, whose thriving ecosystems are home to many rare species such as the Endangered golden snub-nosed monkey; Mexico’s Archipiélago de Revillagigedo, a group of Pacific islands hosting abundant marine life; and Canada’s Mistaken Point, with the earliest fossil records showing the explosion of life after billions of years of microbe dominated evolution.

“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,” says Peter Shadie, Head of IUCN’s delegation at the World Heritage Committee. “Recognising these exceptional places through the World Heritage Convention goes hand in hand with a commitment to secure the utmost quality of conservation management.” 

Spanning an elevation range of more than seven kilometres, India’s Khangchendzonga National Park in the Himalayas includes the world’s third highest peak, Mount Khangchendzonga, and one of Asia’s largest glaciers, the 26 km long Zemu Glacier. The park boasts an unusually diverse flora and fauna, with many rare and Endangered species such as the snow leopard, red panda and Asian wild dog. It is also a place of great cultural and spiritual significance to many ethnic peoples and religious beliefs across and beyond the Himalayas.

Hubei Shennongjia protects the largest primary forests in central China and is home to globally impressive numbers of species, many of which are rare, threatened or endemic. As many as 3,767 vascular plant species have been recorded in the area, which contains a remarkable 63% of the temperate plant species groups found across all of China – home to the world’s greatest diversity of these species. More than 600 vertebrate species live here, including the golden snub-nosed monkey, clouded leopard and the world’s largest amphibian – the Chinese giant salamander.

The remoteness of Mexico’s Archipiélago de Revillagigedo in the Pacific Ocean results in rich biodiversity and exceptional levels of endemism, both terrestrial and marine. Made up of four islands and their surrounding waters, the site’s abyssal plains at depths close to 4,000 metres and sheer drops in crystal clear water offer an awe-inspiring underwater experience. The islands provide nesting and feeding habitat to seabirds, and are the only breeding site for the Townsend’s shearwater – one of the rarest seabirds in the world. They are also a haven for a rich diversity of shark species and manta rays, and up to 2,000 humpback whales migrate through their waters.

Located on a rugged, windswept coast in Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador Province, Mistaken Point offers a rare glimpse into the time when life on Earth got big. Its fossil records show the explosion of complex lifeforms that took place after 3 billion years of microbial-dominated evolution. They help us understand how ecological processes began. Among over 10,000 fossil impressions, ranging from a few centimetres to nearly two metres in length, are the earliest ancestors to animals, dating over 500 million years ago.

Proposals to inscribe five more natural and mixed sites on the World Heritage List were approved by the World Heritage Committee, although IUCN’s evaluations had pointed to additional work needed to secure their conservation to World Heritage standards.

Sudan’s Sanganeb Marine National Park and Dungonab Bay/Mukkawar Island Marine National Park is believed to include the best example of a coral deep-water offshore reef within the Red Sea. Considered a rare and little known type of reef – a ridge reef, it provides important feeding grounds for what is perhaps the most northerly population of dugongs.

The Lut Desert in Iran is a hyper-arid area notable for a rich variety of spectacular desert landforms, including the world’s best examples of aeolian yardangs – bedrock features carved by sandblasts. The region often experiences Earth’s highest temperatures: as much as 70.7C has been recorded within the site.

The Ahwar of Southern Iraq: refuge of biodiversity and the relict landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities contains the Iraqi Marshlands, one of the world’s largest inland delta systems in an extremely hot and arid environment. Inscribed as a mixed site with links to Sumerian civilisations, it has a long history of cultural use, in particular by the Marsh Arabs or Ma’adan.

The World Heritage Committee also approved the inscription of Chad’s Ennedi Massif: natural and cultural landscape as a mixed site and Western Tien-Shan, a set of seven protected areas in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

IUCN is the advisory body on natural World Heritage providing technical, independent advice on nominations submitted to the World Heritage Committee, as well as on necessary action to support listed natural sites facing threats.