Some are on the verge of endangerment, so paying attention to Humankind’s Natural Heritage and how to preserve it becomes crucial.
"Like Confucius of old, I am so absorbed in the wonder of the earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and the angels." Pearl S. Buck
UNESCO categorizes the most exceptional natural places in the world as the Natural Heritage of Humankind, characterized by their remarkable biodiversity, ecosystems, geology, and natural phenomenon. The international recognition already covers around 3.500.000 km2 in 252 countries. Yet this list might change at any given time.
We start this article by presenting 10 prominent places that are part of Humankind’s Natural Heritage and vital for the planet. We conclude with the risks that threaten the list of over 252 natural sites to be preserved and what it is possible to do to prevent the threat from happening.
10 sites of the Natural Heritage of Mankind
1 - Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Integrated in the richest, most ancient forest in Africa (25.000 years), this park was founded in 1991 to protect mountain gorillas. It currently houses around 350 gorillas, besides more than 200 species of trees, 120 species of mammals, and more than 350 species of birds.
2 - Rocky Mountains Park, Canada
When it comes to astonishing landscapes, it’s hard not to mention the Rocky Mountains in Canada, where National Parks (Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho), as well as countless glaciers, thermal fountains, mountains, rivers, and abundant and diversified wildlife - where we highlight mooses, bears, pumas, otters, wolves, and others.
3 - Central Amazon Conservation Complex (CACC), Brazil
With over 13 million hectares, the CACC is the largest and most protected area of the Amazon Basin, spreading through 40% of South America. It’s one of the world’s largest repositories of biodiversity of flora; the Amazon manatee, two species of river dolphins, and the black alligator.
4 - The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
This archipelago of volcanic islands, located around 900.00 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, was the first place to integrate into UNESCO’s list in 1978. Their dynamic and diversified ecosystems host species such as Blue-footed boobies, cormorants, giant turtles, Galapagos penguins, and marine iguanas.
5 - Laurissilva Forest, Madeira
This indigenous forest that existed upon the Portuguese explorers’ arrival is a relic of the Tertiary. It covers an area of around 15.000 hectares, the equivalent of 20% of the territory of Madeira’s island. Wholly immersed in Madeira’s Natural Park, it’s protected under regional, national, and international legislation, hosting several unique plants and animal species from every corner of the world and quite suitable natural habitats in light of ecological diversity’s preservation.
6 - National Park of Iguazú, Argentina
Considered some of the most impressive natural attractions in South America, Iguaçu Falls are the largest system in the world, higher than Niagara Falls and larger than Victoria Falls. Surrounded by an exuberant tropical forest, they host rich wildlife, where the black howlers, brown pumas, tapirs, and over 2.000 species of plants live.
7 - Nanda Devi and Flower Valley National Parks, India
The stunning landscapes of these parks got their names as the second highest mountain in India (Nanda Devi). When Summer arrives, Flower Valley is covered in flowers, transforming itself into an area of absolutely magical paths. In both Parks, it’s possible to find impressive biodiversities, including endangered species, like the snow leopard and the Himalayan musk deer.
8 - Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, China
Composed of seven reserves and nine scenic parks, Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries hosts more than 30% of the worldwide population of giant pandas. Representing one of the most enriched Botanic areas on the planet (with 5.000 to 6.000 species of plants) is a secure refuge for the Red Panda, the Clouded Leopard, and the Snow Leopard.
9 - Pantanal, Brazil
Covering around 195.000 km2, the most humid area of the world, the Pantanal, remote and relatively inaccessible, hosts impressive biodiversity. The size of the Parque Estadual do Encontro das Águas (or State Park where Waters Meet) is indisputably the largest place in the world to watch the Jaguar. This region encompasses more than 230 mammal species, over 1.000 species of birds, 90 species of bats, and 80 species of reptiles.
10 - Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
It’s the only place in Tanzania that protects wildlife and allows Man to live in it simultaneously. The Ngorongoro crater, the world’s largest and intact volcanic crater, hosts over 25.000 animals (among them are the buffalos, hippos, gazelles, and wildebeests), a dense population of lions, and thousands of flamingos that usually migrate to Magadi Lake.
Far beyond beauty
Besides its indisputable beauty, these locations play vital roles in life on the planet.
Protection of endangered species
The places categorized as a Natural Heritage of the Humankind- such as the National Park of the Serengeti (Tanzania), the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), the Yellowstone National Park (USA), and the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) - host crucial habitats for a lot of iconic species and are endowed with unique natural beauty, stunning landscapes, rare ecological processes, and exceptional biodiversity. These are often the last refuge for endangered or threatened species, such as the mountain gorilla, the giant panda, and the orangutan.
Allies in the mitigation of climate impact
Forests are the richest habitats in biodiversity on Earth, taking on a vital role in the absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2), positioning themselves as one of the less expensive ways to fight climate change. It’s estimated that nearly 1.6 billion people - including over 2.000 indigenous cultures - depend on the forests for their sustenance, medication, fuel, food, and shelter.
Over 200 places under the Natural Heritage of Humankind host unique forest ecosystems in a total area of more than 69 million hectares (nearly double the size of Germany). Thanks to these, 190 million tons of carbon dioxide are absorbed from the atmosphere annually.
Source of revenue
Millions of people depend directly on the countless products and services these places can provide. More than 90% of the natural places listed by UNESCO create jobs and generate revenue from tourism.
The bigger threats
UNESCO has been zealous in the conservation of the natural heritage, namely through protection, care, management, and maintenance of the ecosystems, habitats, and species, in and out of their natural environments, in a way to safe keep the natural conditions for its conservation in the long term. In the List of Endangered World Heritage from UNESCO are presented the locations - 50 at this time - which are under severe threat and whose preservation requires special protective measures.
According to the IUCN World Heritage Outlook 3 report, released in November 2020, 16 locations have had their general conservation state deteriorate since 2017. Climate change is on top of the list of the main threats to these locations.
1. Climate changes (threatening over 80 locations)
Barrier reefs, swamps, low-altitude deltas, and permafrost (the permanently frozen layer above the soil) are among the most affected ecosystems. Barrier reefs, like the Great Barrier Reef (the most extensive ecosystem of barrier reefs on Earth), the Aldabra Atoll, the Indian Ocean (the second largest reef atoll in the world), and the Belize Barrier Reef Belize, in the Atlantic (the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere), were affected by the mass coral bleaching, that has been occurring over the last decades.
Almost half of the 46 places under the Natural Heritage of Mankind where there are glaciers (freshwater natural reserves) are threatened by the increase in temperatures; they can disappear by 2100. Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina), Te Wahipounamu (New Zealand), Kilimanjaro National Park (Tanzania), and the Jungfrau-Aletsch Swiss Alps are some of the most affected ones.
2. The negative impact of tourism (that is felt in a significant way in around 50 places) and the infra-structures.
Roads, dams, tourist settings, mining, and projects regarding oil and gas extraction, represent enormous threats. A third of the animals have been disappearing as roads keep invading the forests. It’s predicted that 25 million km of newly paved roads will be constructed all over the world, by 2050 (enough to encircle the planet more than 600 times), with around 90% in tropical forests.
The Sundarbans forest (Bangladesh), which is the host of the Bengal tiger, might be severely affected by the impacts of the coal power plants that are predicted to be placed near that area. The Stiegler’s Gorge dam can cause irreversible damage to the habitats welcomed by the Selous Games Reserve (Tanzania), home to the black rhinoceros, which is also severely in danger.
3. With these threats, the invasive species (that threaten more than 70 locations), poaching, and the lack of funds have also been putting at risk these irreplaceable locations.
Uniting nations to protect the planet
With the growing pressure on the world authorities about the protection of areas under the Natural Heritage of Humankind, UNESCO introduced the World Heritage Convention in 1972. It joins nearly every country in the world around one common objective: to conserve the most exceptional natural and cultural sites of Mankind. In this space, there is not just a place for governments but also for gathering local communities and indigenous populations, private sectors, and many other interested parties.
One of the main benefits of this Convention, especially for developing countries, is access to the World Heritage Fund. Annually, around 4 million euros are made available to aid the Member States in identifying, preserving, and promoting the Natural Heritage of Mankind.
How can we contribute?
1. Provide information about these locations and the dangers that threaten them.
2. Participate as a volunteer in the programs UNESCO made available.
3. Practice more conscientious tourism, not assisting the degradation of these places.
4. Humankind donations to credible entities working toward defending and preserving these areas.