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Among the more than 1000 sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, a number of them are unfortunately at a risk of being removed from the exclusive company.
More than 100 sites are currently named on the World Heritage in Danger. What this means is that relative to the characteristics they first had when they were first granted the World Heritage status, they are considered to be in a state of potential or ascertained danger.
Sites are put on the World Heritage in Danger list by UNESCO and their advisory bodies i.e. ICOMOS/IUCN as a warning to the local authorities as well as the rest of the world that additional measures need to be implemented to restore them to their former glory.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is the largest designated sub-tropical wilderness reserve in North America. It is home to shallow bays, deeper coastal waters and fresh & brackish water.
It is also located at the interface of temperature and sub-tropical America. All of these factors combine to create vast habitats that support diverse flora and fauna. It contains the most significant breeding ground for wading birds and the largest continuous stand of saw grass prairie in North America.
It is also home to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. It exceptional variety of water habitats has made Everglades a refuge for 20+ endangered, threatened and rare species including manatee, crocodile, alligator, snail kite, and the Florida panther. The park is a major corridor for migration as well.
Often referred to as the most threatened park in the United States, Florida’s Everglades National Park was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2010.
This was the second time the park was placed on the list, the first being in 1993 due to the serious damage suffered after Hurricane Andrew as well as deterioration in water flow and quality because of urban and agricultural runoff.
The park was removed from the list at the behest of Bush administration in 2007.However, with the continued nutrient pollution and water flow reduction, the park is in desperate need of restoration.
Unfortunately, nutrient pollution and reduced water flow aren’t the only threats faced by Everglades. Other factors that threaten the park’s existence include the Gulf oil disaster. The questionable assurances from the Administration don’t do much in assuring us as there is still so much we don’t know about the actual location of underwater oil plumes.
Urban development, agriculture and industry pressures have led to the destruction of more than 50% of the original Everglades.
In addition, introduced species pose a serious threat to native habitats of the park. These species are native to other locations and introduced through human activities as pets, biological controls, ornamentals or food sources.
Despite the good intentions behind introducing such species, it’s important to note that they have the ability to outcompete native flora and fauna for space and food due to the absence of population controls like disease and predators.
The water table in this area is just below the land surface, which is risky, because during the rainy season, excess water has to be pumped out to avoid sheet flow. On the other hand, the land has to be irrigated during the dry season with water from Lake Okeechobee.
Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
With a land area of 22,963 sq kilometers, Belize is the smallest country in Central America and is incredibly diverse both culturally and ecologically. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1966 and is made up of seven protected areas i.e.
- Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve
- Laughing Bird Caye National Park,
- Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve,
- South Water Caye Reserve,
- Half Moon Caye Natural Monument,
- Blue Hole Natural Monument as well as Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve.
These areas make up 12% of the entire Reef Complex. The complex is made up of more than 450 sand and mangrove cayes, making it one of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere. The site was once referred to as the most remarkable reef in the West Indies by Charles Darwin.
Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is a sanctuary for endangered marine species that harbor conservation concerns including the American crocodile, loggerhead turtle, hawksbill turtle, green turtle and the West Indian manatee.
Other flora and fauna found in this area include 350 molluscs, 45 hybrids, 65 scleractinian corals, 500+ species of fish, 246 taxa of marine flora, 178 terrestrial plants as well as endemic species such as sponges, tunicates, Yucatan birds and island lizards just to name a few.
Belize Barrier Reserve System was placed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009. Out of the 229 sites placed on this list, 114 of them are threatened by issues relating to mining, gas or oil concessions or at least one other harmful industrial activity.
Coastal construction has already had a negative impact on Belize and the threat of potential oil drilling continues to loom. Generally, Belize’s coastal reef ecosystems are threatened by local threats i.e. overfishing, sediments, pollution & coastal development as well as broader scale threats i.e. coral disease, coral bleaching and trans-boundary sediment & pollution.
Increased development will increase the already high pressure on these ecosystems. Over the past fifty years, large-scale aquaculture and large scale agriculture (sugarcane, bananas and citrus) have escalated, thus leading to a high deforestation rate that’s twice that of Central America according to this article by Conrad Young.
At this rate, the forests will be gone in the next 40 years. The inability of the country to deal with its solid and liquid waste is also derailing efforts to kerb degradation of natural resources in the Reef Reserve.
Rainforests of the Atsinanana
The Rainforests of the Atsinanana comprise of six national parks located along the eastern coast of Madagascar. These relic rainforests are vital to the survival and maintenance of ecological processes that ensure the survival of the island’s biodiversity, which in turn reflects the country’s geological history.
Madagascar separated from other land masses more than 60 million years ago and such, her flora and fauna evolved in isolation. They are inscribed for their importance to the threatened species they support, their biodiversity as well as ecological and biological processes.
The Rainforests of Atsinanana were placed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2010, along with 21 other sites. The decision was reached due to several reasons including exportation of illegally logged ebony and rosewood despite the fact a decree that outlaws the export of precious woods.
Masoala and Marojejy parks are the center of illegal logging on the island. Artisanal mining and associated hunting are also a danger to habitats in the Rainforests of Atsinanana. Agricultural encroachment especially in Masoala, altitudinal range shifts due to climate change as well as potential livelihood and social change may also have severe impacts.
Poaching has been identified as a very imminent threat in all the six component sites, although it’s important to note that data on impacts are lacking. Some of the targeted species include small mammals, birds and lemurs.
Management at the scale of the property have not had much success with combating illegal logging, what with the country issuing export permits for illegally logged wood. In addition, lack of resources and authority is a huge roadblock to the efforts of the management authorities.
Kahuzi Biega National Park
Located near Bukavu town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kahuzi Biega National Park is almost converting to a commercial venture. This is particularly because nearly 1800 tons of charcoal is harvested from the parked every month.
Approximately 10% of Kahuzi Biega National Park is composed of high mountain ranges that comprise of Mt. Biega and Mt. Kahuzi, both of which are extinct volcanoes. A narrow corridor connects this area to an extensive lowland forest along the Congo River basin.
The park is home to thousands of flora and fauna species including eastern lowland gorillas as well as rare species that are unique to this part of the Great African Rift Valley. The Grauer’s gorilla is the most important emblematic species in the park, with one out of the only four remaining populations in the world residing here.
This park has been on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger since 1997. The biggest threat it is facing is poaching and trading of gorilla babies. This has put the lowland gorilla, which also happens to be the world’s largest ape, at risk of extinction.
High population growth and poverty of the population around the park especially in higher altitude areas have put a population pressure on the system, and nearby residents may even be forced to turn to the ecosystem for social as well as economical needs.
Armed militia in the area is involved in farming, mining and hunting inside the park. Cultivation and mining activities in Kahuzi Biega National Park directly affect the habitats, and not positively.
In addition, the presence of armed militia has made many areas no-go zones for officials of the Congolese National Parks Authority or anyone else. As of 2011, the park had a total of 918 mining sites, 415 of which were controlled by armed groups. Logging and timber harvesting have also had a significant effect on the deterioration of habitats. 24% of the higher altitude areas and 10% of the higher altitude areas are affected by logging.
The values of Kahuzi Biega National Park will continue to face serious threats as long as the Congolese army (FARDC) and/or armed militia remain active in the ecological corridor and the low altitude sector.
It is unfortunate that park authority has little capacity to influence the security problems. Albeit slow, some progress is being made to prevent the illegal settlement from happening as well as removing illegal farms from the ecological corridor. While patrols are contributing towards this success, it’s important that strong political leadership implement measures to deal with illegal mining and cultivation in the park.
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There was a time when the only place known to members of the public in Mali was Timbuktu. But even so, some people would still be surprised to learn of Timbuktu’s actual existence. It was considered the ultimate destination for backpackers and understandably so.
The ancient city is a tip of heritage iceberg, serving as a subconscious memory of West Africa’s empires. It is known for its association with the gold trade, as well as a diverse cosmopolitan place that played a significant role in the history of several tribes including Tuareg, Songhai and Malinke.
It is also known as a city of academic prowess, with libraries constructed during the reign of Alskia (AD 1549 – 1583) still in existence. Some of the greatest chronicles detailing the history of West Africa were written in the city. In addition, some of the major mosques in the city including Sidi Yahia, Sankore and Djingareyber date back to the golden age. The city’s rich cultural, historical and educational heritage has made it a major tourist destination.
Unfortunately, some of the historical monuments are at a risk of desertification and manuscripts that contain critical information about the city and West African region have been known to be destroyed every now and then.
In addition to the three mosques, the sixteen mausoleums bear a testimony to the stunning architecture that existed in the golden age. The market squares and vestiges of urban fabric also provide some insight into the lifestyle of the 100,000 residents who lived in the city during its glory days.
However, rampant modernization is imminent and is threatening to wipe out its legacy. Just recently, a large institution was built in one of the public squares and it ended up compromising the integrity of Sankore Mosque. Urban development pressures also threaten the integrity of the urban fabric as well as how it relates to the property.
The old conceptions of Mali, Timbuktu to be more specific, have been replaced unwelcome associations with terrorism, warfare, Al Qaeda as well as destruction of global heritage.
One of the biggest concerns prior to 2012 was protecting the heritage of the city from looters. Some of the figurative terracottas fetched as much as six figures at international auctions.
These worries soon became inconsequential when by summer 2012, jihadist forces either threatened or destroyed vital standing heritage in both Gao and Timbuktu. Starting June 30, 2012, the 15th century Sidi Yahia mosque and eight mausoleums were destroyed Ansar Dine, a jihadist group, also threatened to level any burial monuments that were more than 8inches tall.
With the rebels being so oblivious to the heritage of Timbuktu, it’s not crazy to worry that they will soon destroy the manuscripts with Sufi content, most of which are housed in the historical libraries.
One can only hope that due to their inadequate literacy in the language of the scripts, they won’t have much interest in them. And should they have some interest in these materials, we can only hope that it has everything to do with caring for them. Many private collectors of such manuscripts have stored them away or smuggled them out of Mali for safety keeping.
Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra
Covering an area of 2.5 million hectares, the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra is made of three national parks i.e. Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Gunung Leuser National Park.
It holds the greatest potential for long-term conservation of the diverse biota, including several endangered species. It is home to more than 10,000 plant species, 580 bird species and 200+ mammal species. Of the bird species, 21 are endemic while 465 are
Of the mammal species, 15 are confined to the Indonesian region while 22 of them are Asian and not found anywhere else in the archipelago. The site is home to key mammals such as Malaysian Sun Bear, Sumatran tiger, elephant and rhino. The world’s tallest flower Amorphophallus titanium, and the world’s largest flower, Rafflessia arnoldii, are found in this rainforest as well.
The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004 due to its biodiversity. Recently, it was listed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger to help curb threats posed by agricultural encroachment, illegal logging, poaching as well as plans to build roads through the site.
The rainforest has also been affected by natural disasters including earthquakes and on rare occasions, tsunamis. Encroachment of the site is widespread and is directly a result of commercial plantation interests.
Nan-Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia
During the 40th session, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed several sites including Nan Madol, which was inscribed both on the World Heritage List and the World Heritage in Danger.
Located off the coast of Pohnpei, Nan Madol is a series of 99 artificial islets that were constructed with walls of basalt as well as coral boulders. The islets are home to residential domains, tombs, graves, temples and stone palaces that date back to between 1200 CE and 1500 CE. They are a representation of Saudeleur Dynasty’s ceremonial center.
The concentration of megalithic structures, their technical sophistication as well as the huge scale of edifices is a testimony to the island’s complex social and religious practices. For many Pohnpeians, it is a place of magic and mystery. This partially explains why not many of them ever visit the Ceremonial Center of Eastern Micronesia.
The siltation of waterways that has led to unchecked of mangroves and undermined the existence of edifices is the main reason why this site was placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger. Restoration plans have been put in place by UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites is expected to help refine that plan.