New World Heritage: Kenyan Lakes, Australian Coast, Japanese Islands Print fb
    Date: 2011-07-06    
    PARIS, France, June 26, 2011 (ENS)
    Extraordinary natural areas in Kenya, Australia, Japan and Germany that deserve the highest level of protection have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List by an international panel of government representatives at its annual meeting in Paris.

    The Lakes System in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, the Ningaloo Coast in Australia and the Ogasawara Islands in Japan were all inscribed on the World Heritage List Friday.

    A World Heritage forest site in Eastern Europe was expanded to include Germany, and cultural sites with strong environmental values in Senegal, Jordan and China were also listed by the World Heritage Committee.

    A total of 35 nominations, including natural, cultural and mixed properties are under review by the committee, which is holding its 35th session at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris until June 29.

    Kenya Lake System

    The Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley, a natural property of outstanding beauty and diversity was the first to be added to UNESCO's World Heritage List during the current committee session.

    The site covers three inter-linked shallow lakes - Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Elementaita - in basins on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, which runs on a north-south line through Kenya.

    Increasingly rare mammals such as black rhino, Rothschild's giraffe, greater kudu, lion, cheetah and wild dogs inhabit the area, and the committee found the site to be "valuable for the study of ecological processes of major importance."

    "The three lakes are an integral part of one the largest bird migratory routes in the world sustaining 75 percent of the global population of the lesser flamingo, supporting one of the major breeding colonies of the great white pelicans and providing a vital wintering ground for over 100 species of migratory birds," said the IUCN.

    Human encroachment threatens the fragile ecosystems and water quality of these lakes. With more than 360,000 inhabitants, Nakuru, the provincial capital of Rift Valley province and Kenya's fourth largest city, is located within a kilometer of Lake Nakuru's northern shore. Contamination caused by surface run-off in the wet season, sewage and industrial pollution has tainted the lake, which is also at risk of drying up due to climate change and the clearfelling of surrounding forests.

    All three of the rivers that feed Lake Nakuru now are dry. The rivers once flowed from the Mau forest but legal and illegal logging has taken great bites from the forest. What water that does enter the rivers is used for drinking and agriculture before it reaches the lake.

    The Kenya Wildlife Service is pumping water from deep underground boreholes into drinking troughs for birds and animals, but the source aquifer is being depleted. The solution is to regenerate the Mau forest, Paul Opiyo of the Kenya Wildlife Service told the BBC back in 2009. "Once the Mau recovers, you can be sure the rivers will flow."

    Ningaloo Coast, Western Australia

    The Ningaloo Coast marine and terrestrial site includes one of the longest near-shore reefs in the world. The rich marine life includes some 220 species of coral and soft and hard corals. The annual coral spawning at Ningaloo Reef attracts the largest number anywhere of whale sharks, the largest fish in the world.

    The site stretches for more than 200 kilometers along the westernmost point of Western Australia's coast. The terrestrial part of the 604,500 hectare site features an extensive karst system and network of underground caves and subterranean water courses, supporting a variety of rare species.

    Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke said, "This is a major achievement and provides international recognition of the outstanding natural values of a truly spectacular Australian landscape."

    But Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world's biggest oil companies, in March announced plans to explore for oil and gas in the Exmouth basin near the sensitive protected area.

    Shell said it expects to find gas rather than heavy oils and is assembling a globally deployable well-capping system for the project in case of a blowout. "This system would significantly limit duration of any loss-of-well control scenario, reducing the volume of condensate entering the environment and reducing potential impacts to the environment," the company said in a statement.

    Ogasawara Islands, Japan

    The World Heritage Committee has inscribed Ogasawara Islands, located some 1,000 kilometers south of Japan's main archipelago, on UNESCO's World Heritage List for the wealth of their ecosystems, which reflect a wide range of evolutionary processes.

    The site numbers more than 30 islands clustered in three groups and covers surface area of 7,393 hectares. The islands are inhabited by more than 140 endemic plants and animals, including the Bonin flying fox, a critically endangered megabat.

    Some 195 endangered bird species and 441 native plants have been documented on the islands, whose waters support numerous species of cetaceans, fish, and corals.

    "The remoteness of the Ogasawara Islands has allowed animals and plants to evolve practically undisturbed, making it a living evolutionary laboratory," says Peter Shadie, deputy head of IUCN's Delegation. "The Ogasawara Islands tell a unique story of how life on Earth has and continues to evolve with new species being regularly discovered."

    Ancient Beech Forests of Germany

    The World Heritage Committee has included the ancient beech forests of Germany as an extension to the World Heritage site of Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians found in Slovakia and Ukraine.

    "The ancient beech forests of Germany represent examples of on-going post-glacial biological and ecological evolution of terrestrial ecosystems and are indispensable to understanding the spread of the Fagus beech in the Northern Hemisphere across a variety of environments," said the panel.

    The tri-national site is now to be known as the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany

    Wadi Rum Protected Area, Jordan

    The Wadi Rum Protected Area, a mixed natural and cultural site added to the list today, is located in the southern part of Jordan close to the border with Saudi Arabia and forms a major part of the Hisma Desert.

    The varied desert landscape is the product of millions of years of geological processes, and thousands of years of interactions between humans and nature in a hostile desert environment.

    The 74,000-hectare site features narrow gorges, natural arches, towering cliffs, ramps, massive landslides and caverns.

    Petroglyphs, inscriptions and archaeological remains in the site testify to 12,000 years of human occupation and interaction with the natural environment. The combination of 25,000 rock carvings with 20,000 inscriptions trace the evolution of human thought and the early development of the alphabet.

    The site illustrates the evolution of pastoral, agricultural and urban activity in the region.

    Senegal's Saloum Delta

    Saloum Delta in Senegal with its vestiges of more than two millennia of human occupation has been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

    Fishing and shellfish gathering have sustained human life in the 5,000 square kilometer site, which is formed by the arms of three rivers.

    The site encompasses brackish channels, 200 islands and islets, mangrove forest, an Atlantic marine environment, and dry forest.

    The site is marked by 218 shellfish mounds, some of them several hundreds meters long, produced by its human inhabitants over the ages. Burial sites on 28 of the mounds take the form of tumuli where remarkable artifacts have been found.

    "They are important for our understanding of cultures from the various periods of the delta's occupation and testify to the history of human settlement along the coast of West Africa," said the World Heritage Committee.

    West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou, China

    Inscribed as a cultural site, the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou has inspired famous poets, scholars and artists since the ninth century.

    The West Lake and the hills surrounding its three sides have been enriched with numerous temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens and ornamental trees, as well as causeways and artificial islands.

    The committee said, "The West Lake has influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries and bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealized fusion between humans and nature."

    The World Heritage Committee meets once a year, and consists of representatives from 21 of the governments that are Parties to the World Heritage Convention elected by their General Assembly.

    The committee has the final say on whether a property is inscribed on the World Heritage List. It examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks States Parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed. It also decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

    The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras and the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra in Indonesia were added to the Danger List during this meeting. The committee also removed India's Manas Wildlife Sanctuary from the Danger List.

    The 21 States Parties of the current World Heritage Committee are: Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Jordan, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.