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First wave of new properties added to World Heritage List for 2004

Thursday, 1 July 2004
access_time 7 min read

A glacier-fjord in Greenland, the Ilulissat Icefjord, is among the five new natural sites inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, while the extraordinary earthen architecture of Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba, in Togo, is one of three new cultural sites inscribed by the World Heritage Committee in Suzhou today.

The ongoing 28th session of the Committee, chaired by Zhang Xinsheng, Vice Minister of Education of China and Chairperson of China's National Commission for UNESCO, also approved extensions to three natural sites already on the List.

Over the coming days, the 21-member World Heritage Committee will continue reviewing sites submitted by States Parties to the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, and sites to be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and is expected to finalize inscriptions by Friday. The session will continue until July 7 notably to discuss important matters such as the state of conservation of World Heritage sites.

With the new sites approved so far, two countries, Saint Lucia and Togo make their appearance on the World Heritage List. Greenland, administered by Denmark, also makes its first entry.

The following sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List, which now includes 154 natural properties:

Denmark - Ilulissat Icefjord - Located on the west coast of Greenland, 250-km north of the Arctic Circle, Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord (40,240-ha) is the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea. Sermeq Kujalleq is one of the fastest (19-m per day) and most active glaciers in the world. It annually calves over 35 cubic kilometres of ice, i.e. 10 percent of the production of all Greenland calf ice and more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. Studied for over 250 years, it has helped develop our understanding of climate change and icecap glaciology. The combination of a huge ice-sheet and the dramatic sounds of a fast-moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord covered by icebergs makes for a dramatic and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.

Indonesia - Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra - The 2.5 million hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site comprises three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. The site holds the greatest potential for long term conservation of the distinctive and diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species. The protected area is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, including 17 endemic genera; more than 200 mammal species; and some 580 bird species of which 465 are resident and 21 are endemic. Of the mammal species, 22 are Asian, not found elsewhere in the archipelago and 15 are confined to the Indonesian region, including the endemic Sumatran orangutan. It also provides biogeographic evidence of the evolution of the island.

Russian Federation - Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve - Located well above the Arctic Circle, the site includes the mountainous Wrangel Island (7,608-km2), Herald Island (11-km2) and surrounding waters. Wrangel was not glaciated during the Quaternary Ice Age resulting in exceptionally high levels of biodiversity for this region. The island boasts the world's largest population of Pacific walrus and the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens. It is a major feeding ground for the grey whale migrating from Mexico and the northernmost nesting ground for 100 migratory bird species, many endangered. Currently, 417 species and sub-species of vascular plants have been identified on the island, double that of any other arctic tundra territory of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island. Some species are derivative of widespread continental forms, others are the result of recent hybridisation. Twenty three are endemic.

Saint Lucia - Pitons Management Area - The 2,909-ha site near the town of Soufriere, includes the Pitons, two volcanic spires rising side by side from the sea (770-m and 743-m high respectively), linked by the Piton Mitan ridge. The volcanic complex includes a geothermal field with sulphurous fumeroles and hot springs. Coral reefs cover almost 60 percent of the site's marine area. A survey has revealed 168 species of finfish, 60 species of cnidaria, including corals, eight molluscs, 14 sponges, 11 echinoderms, 15 arthropods and eight annelid worms. Hawksbill turtles are seen inshore, whale sharks and pilot whales offshore. The dominant terrestrial vegetation is tropical moist forest grading to subtropical wet forest with small areas of dry forest and wet elfin woodland on the summits. At least 148 plant species have been recorded on Gros Piton, 97 on Petit Piton and the intervening ridge, among them eight rare tree species. The Gros Piton is home to some 27 bird species (five of them endemic), three indigenous rodents, one opossum, three bats, eight reptiles and three amphibians.

Cape Floral Region Protected Areas - A serial site - in Cape Province, South Africa - made up of eight protected areas, covering 553,000-ha. The Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants in the world. It represents less than 0.5 percent of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20 percent of the continent's flora. The site displays outstanding ecological and biological processes associated with the Fynbos vegetation, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region. The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide. Unique plant reproductive strategies, adaptive to fire, patterns of seed dispersal by insects, as well as patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation found in the flora are of outstanding value to science.

The following cultural sites have been inscribed so far:

Mali - Tomb of Askia - The dramatic 17-m pyramidal structure of Le Tombeau des Askia was built by Askia Mohamed, the Emperor of Songhai, in 1495 in his capital Gao. It bears testimony to the power and riches of the Empire that flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries through its control of the trans Saharan trade, notably in salt and gold. It is also a fine example of the monumental mud-building traditions of the West African Sahel. The complex, including the pyramidal tomb, two flat roofed mosque buildings, the mosque cemetery, and the open air assembly ground, was built when Gao became the capital of the Songhai Empire and after Askia Mohamed had returned from Mecca and made Islam the official religion of the Empire.

Morocco - Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) - The Portuguese fortification of Mazagan, now part of the city of El Jadida, 90km southwest of Casablanca, was built as a fortified colony on the Atlantic coast in the early 16th century. It was taken over by the Moroccans in 1769. The fortification with its bastions and ramparts is an early example of Renaissance military design. The surviving Portuguese buildings include the cistern and the Church of the Assumption, built in the Manueline style of late Gothic architecture. The Portuguese City of Mazagan - one of the early settlements of the Portuguese explorers in West Africa on the route to India - is an outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures, well reflected in architecture, technology, and town planning.

Togo – Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba - The Koutammakou landscape in northeastern Togo, which extends into neighbouring Benin, is home to the Batammariba whose remarkable mud tower-houses have come to be seen as a symbol of Togo. In this landscape, nature is strongly associated with the rituals and beliefs of society. The 50,000-ha cultural landscape is remarkable due to the architecture of its Takienta tower-houses which are a reflection of social structure; its farmland and forest; and the associations between people and landscape. Many of the buildings are two stories high and those with granaries feature an almost spherical form above a cylindrical base. Some of the buildings have flat roofs, others have conical thatched roofs. They are grouped in villages, which also include ceremonial spaces, springs, rocks and sites reserved for initiation ceremonies.

The Committee also approved extensions for the following sites:

U.K. - St Kilda (first inscribed as a natural site in 1986) a volcanic archipelago with spectacular landscapes, is situated off the coast of the Hebrides and comprises the islands of Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray. It has some of the highest cliffs in Europe, inhabited by large colonies of rare and endangered species of birds, especially puffins and gannets. The marine area around the archipelago was extended, almost doubling the size of the site.

U.K. - The 14km2 Inaccessible Island was added to the Gough Island Wildlife Reserve , in the South Atlantic, first inscribed in 1995. The site, now called Gough and Inaccessible Islands , is one of the least-disrupted island and marine ecosystems in the cool temperate zone. The spectacular cliffs of each island, towering above the ocean, are free of introduced mammals and homes to one of the world's largest colonies of sea birds. Gough Island is home to two endemic species of land birds, the gallinule and the Gough rowettie, as well as to 12 endemic species of plants, while Inaccessible Island boasts of two birds, eight plants and at least ten invertebrates endemic to the island.

Costa Rica - The Area de Conservación Guanacaste (inscribed in 1999), was extended with the addition of a 15,000-ha private property, St Elena. It contains important natural habitats for the conservation of biological diversity, including the best dry forest habitats from Central America to northern Mexico and key habitats for endangered or rare plant and animal species. The site demonstrates significant ecological processes in both its terrestrial and marine-coastal environments.