The Curonian Spit, an elongated sand-dune peninsula straddling the border of Lithuania and the Russian Federation, will not be inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. The decision follows an agreement between the two countries to undertake an environmental assessment of the impact of oil exploration and production in the Baltic Sea, 22 kilometres from the World Heritage site. The Curonian Spit is an oustanding example of a landscape of sand dunes, that is under constant threat from natural forces, such as wind and tide. Inhabited since pre-historic times, its survival has been made possible only as a result of ceaseless human efforts to combat erosion, notably through reforestation and stabilisation projets. Jointly nominated by Lithuania and the Russian Federation, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000.

In 2003, the World Heritage Committee expressed its concern over potential oil pollution and damage to the Spit’s fragile ecological system from a project by a Russian company, which set up an oil platform in the Baltic Sea , 22 kilometres from the World Heritage site. The 27th session of the Committee strongly advised that the project should not commence before a joint Lithuanian-Russian Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had been carried out, and a work plan developed for prevention/mitigation measures to ensure conservation of the property.

At its 28th session in 2004, the Committee set a deadline of February 1, 2005 for the two StatesParties to present a written agreement to undertake an EIA. In the absence of such an agreement, the Curonian Spit would be automatically inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

In addition to a Round Table convened by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in November 2003, Lithuania and the Russian Federation held several bilateral talks to discuss how to comply with the World Heritage Committee’s decision. On January 28 they announced their agreement for a post-project environmental assessment.

The Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, Mr Themba P. Wakashe and the Director of the World Heritage Centre, Mr Franscesco Bandarin, warmly welcomed the agreement, and considered that this should serve as an example for transboundary cooperation under the World Heritage Convention for the Safeguarding of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The World Heritage Committee, of which both Lithuania and the Russian Federation are elected members, will examine the joint agreement and the general state of conservation of the property at its 29th session to ne held in Durban, South Africa, July 2005.