Natural World Heritage Sites in trouble, especially in the Tropics
Source : https://news.mongabay.com
- From the Great Barrier Reef to the Galapagos Islands and the forests of central Africa, over a third of Natural World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO are under threat from myriad problems.
- Of the seventeen locations with a critical conservation outlook, sixteen are in the Tropics, and the majority of those are in Africa. Less than half of African World Heritage sites received a “good” outlook. Lack of funding in developing nations is a major problem.
- Sites harboring rich biodiversity, such as Virunga and Garamba national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, are especially at risk.
- The most common threats to Natural World Heritage Sites are invasive non-native species, unsustainable tourism, poaching, hydroelectric dams, and logging, with climate change the fastest growing threat.
More than a third of United Nations World Heritage sites with natural Outstanding Universal Value are under threat, according to a recent report by the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The first assessment of all 241 natural World Heritage sites globally found that 29 percent are of “significant conservation concern,” while a further 7 percent are worse off, with “critical concerns.”
Famous heritage sites evaluated to be at risk include Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and Peru’s Machu Picchu. The report found tropical sites to be among the most critically threatened, especially in Africa, where developing nations often lack the funds to properly protect the preserves.
World Heritage Sites are chosen by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for having exceptional cultural, historical, scientific or other significance, and the sites are legally protected by international treaties. Of these, 241 sites were selected for their natural outstanding universal value, covering 293 million hectares of land and sea across 107 countries. The United States under Donald Trump withdrew from UNESCO this year, after not paying its UNESCO dues since 2011, a total of more than $550 million in arrears payments.
Sites given World Heritage status due to their valuable biodiversity are more threatened than those cited for geology or natural beauty. The most common biodiversity threats are invasive non-native species, unsustainable tourism, poaching, hydroelectric dams, and logging, with climate change the fastest growing threat to Natural World Heritage sites.
Of the seventeen locations with a critical conservation outlook, sixteen are in the tropics and the majority in Africa. Africa’s Natural Heritage sites cover a total of 41 million hectares (158,000 square miles), but only 43 percent have a good outlook.
For instance, Africa’s largest protected area – Aïr and Ténéré National Reserves – covers over 7.5 million hectares (29,000 square miles) in Niger, including the unusual volcanic structures of the Aïr Mountains and the Sahara Desert landscape of Ténéré. Decades of civil unrest in Niger, coupled with limited management capacity, has left the wildlife of this heritage site severely threatened by poaching and illegal logging.