The 35th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will meet in Paris from June 19 through June 29 of 2011. Under consideration for inclusion on the UN agency’s World Heritage List are 10 new natural sites. A look at each of these 10 wonders of nature illustrates why they deserve inclusion, appreciation and protection.
Ningaloo Coast, Australia
Eastern Australia has the Great Barrier Reef but on Oz’s opposite shore, the remote Ningaloo Coast gives the country’s most famous ecological showpiece a real run for its money. Hugging Western Australia’s shore for 260 km (160 miles), the Ningaloo Coast is one of the world’s largest fringing reefs and much of it is surprisingly accessible, lying as close as 100 meters (330 ft) to land.
(image via: ECObytes)
Hundreds of other species of tropical fish patrol the reef along with whale sharks, humpback whales and rare sea turtle species. Snorkelers and glass-bottom boaters can take in one of the sea’s great spectacles in March and April as billions of coral organisms come together (as it were) in a mass spawning.
Pendjari National Park, Benin
Pendjari National Park boasts an astonishing diversity of wildlife from elephants and lions to monkeys and hippos, but the area is best known for its abundance of rare and beautiful birds. Located in Benin’s rugged and isolated northwest, Pendjari National Park is one of Africa’s most scenic destinations combining cliffs, jungles, rivers and grasslands.
Pendjari National Park covers an area of 2,755 square kilometers (1,064 sq miles) and its isolation has so far kept it relatively unaffected by human intrusion. The government of Benin has worked with authorities in neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger to create the WAP (W-Arli-Pendjari) park complex. By working together and downplaying rigid national boundaries, the three governments have allowed the region’s native creatures to thrive.
Wudalianchi National Park, China
Wudalianchi National Park, located in China’s northeastern province of Heilongjiang, is an otherworldly landscape formed by China’s youngest volcanoes. Wudalianchi, which translates to “Five Interconnected Lakes,” was formed approximately 60,000 years ago when a group of erupting volcanoes transformed the region’s landscape and water drainage patterns.
(image via: Radio86)
Wudalianchi National Park includes a number of large caves and oddly shaped lakes whose waters are tinted a variety of exotic hues. The park also features China’s largest cold mineral water recuperating center but environmentalists worry that increased tourism may harm the area’s fragile ecosystem.
Ancient Beech Forests of Germany
The name Buchenwald carries ominous baggage dating back to the darkest days of World War II but its literal translation – Beech Forest – merely describes some of Germany’s most breathtakingly beautiful scenery. The remaining ancient Red Beech forests have managed to preserve a little primeval ecology within shouting distance of the country’s urban and suburban centers. As a destination for those desiring some peace and quiet within comfortable walking distance, these stately, silent forests are unmatched.
(image via: Letters Home)
In Roman times, vast forests of Red Beech trees covered much of “Germania” but over the centuries most of the forests have been cleared for farming and for their wood resources. Only a few stands of Red Beech over 200 years old exist in Germany today.
Western Ghats, India
The Western Ghats are a chain of steep, eroded cliffs and mountains that line much of India’s southwestern coast. It is thought that the cliffs mark the point where, tens of millions of years ago, India and the island of Madagascar split from one another. At that time the cliffs towered over 300 meters (1,000 ft) tall but since that time they have been weathered by wind & water and transformed by repeated episodes of volcanism.
(image via: How Volcanoes Work)
The Western Ghats are an ecological hotspot that boasts up to 140 endemic species of amphibians alone. Human pressure on the forests is unrelenting, however – in Sri Lanka, it’s estimated that only 1.5 percent of the Western Ghats’ original forest cover remains.
Hara Protected Area, Iran
If you thought Iran was a nation of deserts and sand, then you haven’t heard of the Hara Protected Area. Found along the country’s southern coast bordering the Arabian Sea, the region features some of the world’s remaining mangrove forests and an astonishing number of bird species for whom the region is a vital stop on long migration routes.
(image via: Gardesh Yaran)
The specific type of mangrove commonly found in the Hara Protected Area is Avicennia Marina, a tree that is uniquely adapted to growing in salt water and which can grow up to 8 meters (over 26 ft) tall. The government of Iran already restricts the types of commercial activity allowed in the Hara Protected Area but bestowing the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site on this essential ecosystem will certainly help preserve it.
Ogasawara Islands, Japan
Formerly known as the Bonin Islands, Japan’s Ogasawara Islands can be reached only via a 25-hour boat trip – a fact that has undoubtedly helped preserve their near-pristine ecological status. This far-flung archipelago of over 30 subtropical and tropical islands combines rare and in some cases unique land flora and fauna with some of the world’s most diverse ocean reef communities.
(image via: Ippei + Janine)
The Ogasawara Islands weren’t always as isolated as they are today. In World War II some of the islands were bloody battlegrounds, especially Chichi Jima, the latter being where former U.S. president George H. W. Bush bailed out of his damaged airplane and was rescued by an American submarine.
Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley, Kenya
The Kenya Lake System includes three separate “soda” lakes that are connected via sub-surface seepage. Like many of the Great Rift Valley Lakes, these lakes are mainly alkaline and infused with algae.
(image via: Arsa54)
Though Lake Natron in Tanzania (above) is perhaps the most famous of the Great Rift Valley lakes thanks to its often lurid pink coloration, the lakes of the Kenya Lake System (Lake Elementaita, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Bogoria) have earned special attention from the UNESCO committee due to the fact that their waters and the shrimp & algae living in them sustain as much as 75 percent of the world’s Lesser Flamingos.
Trinational Sangha: Congo, Cameroon, CAR
The Dzanga-Sangha Complex of Protected Areas consists of a huge 4,589 sq km (1,772 sq mi) block of dense rainforest located in the triangular southwestern tip of the Central African Republic. Along with adjoining parks and protected areas in neighboring Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, the Trinational Sangha is home to significant populations of African Forest Elephants, Gorillas and Chimpanzees.
(image via: Middle Africa)
Though commercial logging took place within the area in the 1970s and 1980s, a concerted international effort has succeeded in closing the area to all human activity with the exception of subsistence hunting, tourism and scientific research.
Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, Viet Nam
Among the 10 natural properties under consideration for World Heritage Site status at the 35th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. The park is the only site to be nominated under new criteria, though the park was previously granted World Heritage Site status by virtue of its geological values and not its copious wildlife.
(image via: Bayou Renaissance Man)
Located in Quang Binh Province, north-central Vietnam, Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park is situated in one of the world’s two largest karst regions. The park includes over 70 km (43.5 miles) of interconnected caves and grottos of which less than 1/3 have been explored. The world’s largest cave, Son Doong Cave, was discovered in April 2009 by British cave explorers of the British Caving Association. As exploration of the cave system continues, it’s probable that even more notable discoveries will be announced.
(image via: Vrindavan Today)
At press time, 911 properties of “outstanding universal value” in 151 different nations have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and 180 of these are natural properties. Though limited in their ability to oversee these sites and enforce their “hands off” status, UNESCO at least does the world a service by bringing these natural wonders to our notice. Joni Mitchell once sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” but maybe by knowing what we’ve got today, we can help ensure they won’t be gone tomorrow.