Islands of Jan Mayen and Bouvet as parts of a serial transnational nomination of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge system

Date of Submission: 21/06/2007
Criteria: (viii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
The Directorate for Nature Management The Directorate for Cultural Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: Jan Mayen Island N71 W8 30 Bouvet Island S54 25 E3 21
Ref.: 5162


The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a submarine mountain chain forming the boundary between the North and South American Plates and the European and African Plates. The continents are moving away from each other and volcanic activity has created a submarine ridge stretching from the Norwegian Sea to the southern Atlantic Ocean. In places the ridge rises above sea level, creating islands and groups of islands belonging to five nations. The Norwegian islands of Jan Mayen and Bouvet form the northern and southern supramarine extremities of the ridge. The other supramarine points are islands and cliffs belonging to Brazil, Great Britain, Portugal and Iceland. All of Iceland has been created by this geological process. The active zone stretches across the whole of Iceland, from southwest to northeast, and is clearly visible, for example, at Thingvellir (inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004).

Jan Mayen Island

The island of Jan Mayen is surrounded by the deep Greenland, Iceland and Norwegian Seas. Total area of land is 375 km2. The climate is arctic maritime, with frequent storms and persistent fog in the border zone between the high arctic and subarctic transitional zones.

The stratovolcano Beerenberg (2.277 m.a.s.l.), is the northernmost active supramarine volcano in the world. Its last eruption took place in 1985.

The geographic position, its geology below and above sea-level, and its relationship to the geophysical processes of the atmosphere and the ocean, combines to form a particular set of environmental factors that places Jan Mayen Island in a unique biogeographical position.

Plant societies that include endemic and rare species are found on the island. A total of 75 species of vascular plants, 180 species of mosses and 150 species of lichens (7 endemic) have been recorded to date.

A total of 98 species of birds have been recorded, 27 of which are reported to have bred here. The total breeding population of seabirds is estimated to 270.000 pairs. The four most common are Northern Fulmars, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Brünnich's Guillemots and Little Auks. Jan Mayen Island is regarded as an important "rescue platform" for migrating birds.

300.000 Greenland Seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) and 200.000 Hooded Seals (Cystophora cristata) are reported to breed in the areas north-west of Jan Mayen. If sea-ice conditions are favourable during winter and spring, these seal-populations also breed in the areas around Jan Mayen. The population of hooded seal is estimated to constitute 25% of the world population. 

Jan Mayen Island's cultural heritage is rich relative to its modest size (373 km², with Beerenberg taking a dominant place).  There are remains of early 17th century Dutch whaling stations and whalers graves, the foundations of one of the 1st International Polar Year (1882-83) Arctic stations, Norwegian hunting and trapping cabins from the early 20th century, ruins of the first meteorological stations starting in 1921, Allied and German World War II monuments and sites, and heritage from the establishment of the current navigation (Loran) activity starting in 1959. 

Bouvet Island

Located 2.400 km southwest of Cape of Good Hope, Bouvet Island is considered one of the most isolated islands in the world. The total area of land is 58,5 km2, and the inactive shield volcano Olavtoppen (789 m.a.s.l.) is the highest point of the island. 93% of the island is covered with permanent ice. Although volcanic activity has declined, fumaroles are still abundant.

The climate is maritime antarctic with mean temperature -1,5oC. Fair weather is extremely rare, and with its steep and almost inaccessible coastline the island is only visited for short periods by transitory research expeditions.

There are no higher plants on the island and the flora consists mainly of lichens and mosses. A lava shelf on the west coast is an important nesting site for birds. Macaroni Penguins and Chinstrap Penguins are dominant species, but Adele Penguins have also been recorded to breed.  Two species of seals, Antarctic Fur Seals and Southern Elephant Seals, are breeding on the island.

Bouvet Island's extremely tough climate and natural conditions have destroyed the small huts and flagpole that were the first known structures to be placed on the island, in 1927 and 1929.  There is no designated cultural heritage on the island today. A container equipped as a research station was placed on the island in 1997.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Jan Mayen Act of 1930 makes the basis legislation. The cultural heritage protection regulations are currently being updated to automatically protect all heritage pre-dating 1946, as well as certain more recent sites. The whole of Jan Mayen Island and adjacent waters are currently being evaluated for protection by Norwegian law as a unique part of Norway's natural and cultural heritage. New environmental regulations are scheduled to be adopted in 2008.

Basis legislation: The Bouvet Island, Peter I Island and Queen Maud Land Act 1930. Bouvet Island and adjacent waters were designated as Nature Reserve in 1971. Special access-regulations regarding the protection of breeding areas for seals and seabirds were adopted in 2005. Due to its isolated position, Bouvet Island has been less affected by human activities than most other maritime antarctic and subantarctic islands.

Comparison with other similar properties

As of today it's not considered relevant to nominate the two islands of Jan Mayen and Bouvet separately from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The outstanding universal values are considered to be connected with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as a world class geological phenomenon representing the growth of ocean floor and the process of continental drift. In this context the two islands are considered important elements to fulfil the criteria of integrity in respect of wholeness. No similar phenomena of this scale exist.

Both islands have potential to add supplementary values to the World Heritage List on topics such as geology, ecosystems, biological diversity and cultural heritage in the Arctic and Antarctic region.

IUCN has classed Bouvet Island as a maritime antarctic island together with the South Sandwich Islands. The existing World Heritage sites (Macquarie Island (1997), Heard and MacDonald Islands (1997)) in the Southern Ocean are classed as subantarctic islands and differ from Bouvet Island by their relatively large number of vascular plant species.  The South Sandwich Islands are a volcanic island arc caused by the subduction of the South American Plate beneath the South Sandwich Plate and is not considered part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge system.