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Eight New World Heritage Sites Designated

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Eight New World Heritage Sites Designated

Fossils of whales with legs, the world’s biggest meteorite impact site, the deepest fjords, vast tropical forests, and outstanding marine sites have obtained World Heritage status today

Durban, South Africa, 14 July 2005 (IUCN) – Based on the technical evaluation reports of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), eight new natural World Heritage sites were designated today, 14 July 2005, by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, meeting in Durban, South Africa.

These include Wadi Al-Hitan / Whale Valley (Egypt), the Valley of Flowers National Park (India), Shiretoko (Japan), the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California (Mexico), West Norwegian Fjords (Norway), Coiba National Park (Panama), Vredefort Dome (South Africa) and Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai Forest Complex (Thailand). The international committee of 21 countries unanimously approved IUCN’s recommendations for inscribing these sites on the prestigious World Heritage List.

Four of the new sites contain outstanding coastal and marine areas: Shiretoko peninsula of Japan, the Norwegian Fjords, the Gulf of California and Coiba National Park of the Pacific. “These new World Heritage sites illustrate the global importance of preserving marine biodiversity for our future well-being, especially commercial fish stocks and endangered species,” said David Sheppard, Head of the IUCN Programme on Protected Areas and the IUCN delegation in Durban.

The inscription of these eight sites is recognition of their outstanding universal value for humankind, and the need to preserve them for future generations. Of great pride to the nations whose territory they lie within, these designated World Heritage sites highlight their importance to all the peoples of the world. Their protection is the duty of the respective countries but also the international community as a whole.

IUCN, as the technical advisory body to the World Heritage Committee has evaluated all sites that were nominated this year. “Our evaluation process, engaging a large number of top international experts, is very thorough and rigorous in order to maintain the credibility of the Convention, but at the same time seeks to support the conservation efforts of governments and NGOs in conserving the most outstanding places on earth.”

The Gulf of California, one of the coastal and marine sites included on the World Heritage list today, comprises 244 islands and marine areas providing habitat for 891 fish species, 90 of them endemic, as well as 39% of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s total number of marine cetacean species. This area has been called a natural laboratory for the investigation of speciation where almost all major oceanographic processes occurring in the planet’s oceans are present.

Equally impressive, Japan’s Shiretoko Peninsula, situated on Japan's northern-most island, Hokkaido, provides an outstanding example of the interaction between marine and terrestrial ecosystems and extraordinary ecosystem productivity, influenced by the formation of seasonal sea ice at the lowest latitude in the northern hemisphere. It has particular global importance for marine and terrestrial species, such as the endangered Steller’s sea lion, whales, salmonid species, the Blackiston’s Fish owl and many migratory birds. It also boasts the highest recorded densities of brown bear populations in the world.

Panama’s Coiba National Park, located in the Gulf of Chiriquí, in the Central Pacific Ocean, was inscribed following a major extension of the marine area recommended by IUCN last year. This is a success story for conservation and the World Heritage Convention since new species are still being formed in this outstanding natural laboratory for scientific research. The marine ecosystems are repositories of extraordinary biodiversity, including 760 species of fishes, 33 species of sharks and 20 species of cetaceans.

Best known for their outstanding scenery, Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord of Norway, two of the world’s longest and deepest fjords, considered as archetypical fjord landscapes, are also home to many marine mammals. Their outstanding natural beauty is derived from their narrow and steep-sided crystalline rock walls that rise up to 1400m from the Norwegian Sea and extend 500m below sea level.

From protection of today’s whales to the conservation of the whales of the past, Egypt’s new World Heritage site, Wadi Al-Hitan or Whale Valley, displays fossils on the desert floor of the last whales known to have legs, and reveals one of the iconic transitions in the record of life: the emergence of whales as modern ocean-going mammals from their previous land-based existence.

The World Heritage Committee also inscribed the oldest (2023 million years) and largest (radius 190km) meteorite impact structure, Vredefort Dome. Situated near Johannesburg in South Africa, it is the site of the world’s greatest single known energy release event which caused devastating global change, including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes. IUCN however highlighted the urgent need to better protect this unique site and provide visitor facilities to help interpret the complex phenomenon.

From the depths of the earth to the tops of the Himalayas, the spectacular Valley of Flowers National Park of India, inscribed as an extension to Nanda Devi National Park, is renowned for its meadows of endemic alpine flowers and is also home to rare and endangered animals, including the Asiatic Black Bear, Snow Leopard, Brown Bear and Blue Sheep. IUCN’s report also emphasized the potential socio-economic and conservation benefits of developing eco-tourism in this remote mountain environment.

Another great success story this year is the inscription of the Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai Forest Complex of Thailand. Originally nominated with just one National Park, but following the recommendations of IUCN, this new World Heritage site now includes 4 National Parks and one Wildlife Sanctuary covering 6,155 km?. The Complex comprises a mosaic of different tropical forest types and is habitat to more than 800 fauna species, including 1 critically endangered, 4 endangered and 19 vulnerable species, such as tiger and elephant.

Finally, the World Heritage Committee deferred decisions on two natural nominations from Gabon for Lopé and Minkébé National Parks, requesting further documentation of their outstanding universal values, enhancement of management capacity and collaboration with the neighbouring countries Cameroon and the Republic of Congo to protect a larger area of the most important biological reserves of Central Africa.

A number of nominated properties were inevitably rejected or withdrawn since the World Heritage List aims to include only the best examples of cultural and natural heritage.

The World Heritage Committee meeting continues until the 17 July and is currently examining the World Heritage nominations for cultural properties.

ENDS

The role of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) under the World Heritage Convention is as technical advisory body on natural heritage to the World Heritage Committee. It carries out evaluations of all new nominations and annual monitoring of World Heritage sites under threat. Further information on IUCN’s World Heritage work is available at: http://www.iucn.org/themes/wcpa/wheritage/wheritageindex.htm

More information on each of the sites is available at: www.iucn.org

Further information on the World Heritage Convention is available at: http://whc.unesco.org

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