Norwegian Fjords and Japan’s Shiretoko peninsula are among the seven natural sites added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List

Thursday, 14 July 2005
access_time 7 min read

Durban (South Africa), The World Heritage Committee chaired by Themba Wakashe, South Africa’s Deputy Director-General for Heritage and National Archives, today inscribed seven natural sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Committee also made decisions concerning two natural sites already on the List. The one is extended in size while the inscription of the other under cultural criteria makes it both a natural and cultural site.

With today’s inscriptions, UNESCO World Heritage List numbers 160 natural sites and 24 mixed sites (i.e. both natural and cultural) of outstanding universal value around the world. The sites inscribed today are:

South Africa – Vredefort Dome
Vredefort Dome, approximately 120km south west of Johannesburg, is a representative part of a larger meteorite impact structure, or astrobleme. Dating back 2,023 million years, it is the oldest astrobleme found on earth so far. With a radius of 190km, it is also the largest and the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy release event, which caused devastating global change, including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes. It provides critical evidence of the earth’s geological history and is crucial to our understanding of the evolution of the planet. Despite their importance to the planet’s history, geological activity on the earth’s surface has led to the disappearance of evidence from most impact sites and Vredefort is the only example on earth to provide a full geological profile of an astrobleme below the crater floor.

Egypt - Wadi Al-Hitan Whale Valley
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, in the Western Desert of Egypt, contains invaluable fossil remains of the earliest, and now extinct, suborder of whales, the archaeoceti. These fossils represent one of the major stories of evolution: the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal. This is the most important site in the world for the demonstration of this stage of evolution. It portrays vividly the form and life of these whales during their transition. The number, concentration and quality of such fossils here is unique, as is their accessibility and setting in an attractive and protected landscape. The fossils of Al-Hitan show the youngest archaeocetes, in the last stages of losing their hind limbs. They already display the typical streamlined body form of modern whales, whilst retaining certain primitive aspects of skull and tooth structure. Other fossil material in the site makes it possible to reconstruct the surrounding environmental and ecological conditions of the time.

Japan – Shiretoko
Shiretoko Peninsula is located in the northeast of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. The site includes the land from the central part of the Peninsula to its tip (Shiretoko Cape) and the surrounding marine area. It provides an outstanding example of the interaction of marine and terrestrial ecosystems as well as extraordinary ecosystem productivity largely influenced by the formation of seasonal sea ice at the lowest latitude in the northern hemisphere. It has particular importance for a number of marine and terrestrial species, some of them endangered and endemic, such as the Blackiston’s Fish owl and the Viola kitamiana plant. The site is globally important for threatened sea birds and migratory birds, a number of salmonid species, and for a number of marine mammals, including the Steller’s sea lion, and some cetacean species.

Norway – West Norwegian Fjords Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord
Situated in southwestern Norway, northeast of Bergen, Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, set 120km from one another, are part of the west Norwegian fjord landscape, which stretches from Stavanger in the south to Andalsnes, 500km to the northeast. The two fjords, among the world’s longest and deepest, are considered as archetypical fjord landscapes and among the most scenically outstanding anywhere. Their exceptional natural beauty is derived from their narrow and steep-sided crystalline rock walls that rise up to 1,400m from the Norwegian Sea and extend 500m below sea level. The sheer walls of the fjords have numerous waterfalls while free flowing rivers cross their deciduous and coniferous forests to glacial lakes, glaciers and rugged mountains. The landscape features a range of supporting natural phenomena, both terrestrial and marine such as submarine moraines and marine mammals.

Mexico - Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California
The site comprises 244 islands, islets and coastal areas that are located in the Gulf of California in northeastern Mexico. The Sea of Cortez and its islands have been called a natural laboratory for the investigation of speciation. Moreover, almost all major oceanographic processes occurring in the planet’s oceans are present in the property, giving it extraordinary importance for study. The site is one of striking natural beauty in a dramatic setting formed by rugged islands with high cliffs and sandy beaches, which contrast with the brilliant reflection from the desert and the surrounding turquoise waters. The site is home to 695 vascular plant species, more than in any marine and insular property on the World Heritage List. Equally exceptional is the number of fish species: 891, ninety of them endemic. The site, moreover, contains 39% of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean species.

Thailand - Dong Phayayen - Khao Yai Forest Complex
The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex spans 230km between Ta Phraya National Park on the Cambodian border in the east, and Khao Yai National Park in the west. It is a rugged mountainous area ranging between 100m to 1,351m high with about 7,500 of its 615,500 hectares above 1,000m. The north side is drained by several tributaries of the Mun River, itself a tributary of the Mekong River. The southern side is drained by numerous scenic waterfalls and gorges and four main fast streams that flow into the Prachinburi River. The site is home to more than 800 species of fauna, including 112 mammal species (among them two species of gibbon), 392 species of birds and 200 reptiles and amphibians. It is internationally important for the conservation of globally threatened and endangered mammal, bird and reptile species, among them 19 that are vulnerable, four that are endangered, and one that is critically endangered. The area contains substantial and important tropical forest ecosystems, which can provide a viable habitat for the long-term survival of these species.

Panama - Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection
Coiba National Park, off the southwest coast of Panama, protects Coiba Island, 38 smaller islands and the surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriqui. Protected from the cold winds and effects of El Niño, Coiba’s Pacific tropical moist forest maintains exceptionally high levels of endemism of mammals, birds and plants due to the ongoing evolution of new species. It is also the last refuge for a number of threatened animals such as the crested eagle. The property is an outstanding natural laboratory for scientific research and provides a key ecological link to the Tropical Eastern Pacific for the transit and survival of pelagic fish and marine mammals.

The following site has been extended:

India –Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks
Nestled high in the West Himalaya, India’s Valley of Flowers National Park is renowned for its meadows of endemic alpine flowers and outstanding natural beauty. This richly diverse area is also home to rare and endangered animals, including the Asiatic black bear, snow leopard, brown bear and blue sheep. The gentle landscape of the Valley of Flowers National Park complements the rugged mountain wilderness of Nanda Devi National Park, which was already inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988. Together they encompass a unique transition zone between the mountain ranges of the Zanskar and Great Himalaya, praised by mountaineers and botanists for over a century and in Hindu mythology for much longer. With this extension the site will be known as Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park.

The following site has become a mixed site by inscription under cultural criteria:

United Kingdom - St Kilda
Initially inscribed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding natural features and wildlife in 1986, the site has now been recognized also for its cultural value, thus becoming a mixed site. This volcanic archipelago, comprising the islands of Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray, uninhabited since 1930, bears the evidence of more than 2,000 years of human occupation in the extreme conditions prevalent in the Hebrides. Human vestiges include built structures and field systems, the cleits and the traditional Highland stone houses. They feature the vulnerable remains of a subsistence economy based on the products of birds, agriculture and sheep farming.

The 29th session of the 21-member World Heritage Committee will continue until July 17 with the inscription of cultural sites on the World Heritage List. The Committee, which is in charge of implementing the 1972 Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, will also consider the need to place certain World Heritage sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger so as to help overcome obstacles to their conservation.

On Wednesday the Committee removed three sites from the List of World Heritage in Danger List, recognizing progress in their conservation: Sangay National Park (Ecuador), Timbuktu (Mali), Butrint (Albania).

Written Press
Roni Amelan, Tel: 33 (0)1 45 68 16 50 and during the session +33 (0)6 74 39 84 41
Isabelle Le Fournis, in Durban, Tel +33 (0)6 12 19 74 01
Carole Darmouni, Tel: 33 (0)1 45 68 17 38 or + 33 (0)6 18 01 88 82
Ariane Bailey Tel: 33 (0)1 45 68 16 86