Due to an increase in industrial activities, such as mining and logging, just under half of all natural World Heritage sites are under threat, according to a new report by WWF International. In it, they warn that many sites of outstanding importance, from the Great Barrier Reef to Machu Picchu, are at risk and could be badly damaged. This would threaten the income and livelihoods of an estimated 11 million people who live in and around these sites, as well as those who rely on them for work and resources.
The report found that a total of 114 out of 229 natural World Heritage sites, which themselves cover just 0.5 percent of the Earth’s surface, were at tremendous risk. The list of World Heritage sites is maintained by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, who also compile their own list of those most “in danger.” But this latest one drawn up by the WWF swamps that made by UNESCO, who list just 17 natural sites at risk.
The Grand Canyon, one of North America's most famous natural heritage sites, is also under threat. sunikophoto/Shutterstock
The sites are divided into three separate categories. The first are those with “natural” heritage, which includes regions and landscapes that “contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty,” as well as those that support threatened species of animals and plants, or display scientifically important geological and physical processes. The second category are areas of “cultural” heritage, which contain buildings and monuments of significant historical and cultural importance. The third category is “mixed,” displaying features of the first two.
“World Heritage sites should receive the highest levels of protection, yet we are often unable to safeguard even this important fraction of the Earth’s surface,” explained Marco Lambertini, the director general of WWF International, in a statement. “We all agree that these are some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet, now we need to work together to let these sites provide for the well-being of people and nature.”
The massive increase in development around these internationally important sites is not just a threat for the wildlife that calls them home, but for the millions of people who depend on them as a primary source of income. They say that this reality is often ignored by those who are making the decisions that affect the future of these sites, and call for more action to help protect them from encroaching industries.