What are Marine World Heritage Sites?
World Heritage sites are iconic, internationally recognized protected areas that have been inscribed on the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee because of their Outstanding Universal Value. As of August 2010 the World Heritage List included 911 sites. Of these sites, 180 have been inscribed for the natural values, and 43 of these natural sites are marine sites, designated for their outstanding marine biodiversity or ecosystem values, importance as natural habitats, exceptional natural beauty, or importance as outstanding examples of major stages of the earth’s history. At the World Heritage Convention in Brasilia in August 2010, two of the world’s largest marine protected areas—the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) in Kiribati and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, USA, were added to the World Heritage List. The addition of these two sites more than doubled the area covered by the Marine World Heritage Programme. About 0.5% of the world ocean’s surface area is now protected under the World Heritage Convention.
|Aldabra from the air
While about 5,000 MPA’s have been identified throughout the world, only 43 of these sites have been evaluated rigorously by IUCN and inscribed by the World Heritage Committee as Marine World Heritage sites. The Great Barrier Reef was inscribed as the first Marine World Heritage site in 1981. It remained until 2010 the largest World Heritage site protecting 344,400 km2 of marine waters, with the Galapagos Islands being the second largest World Heritage Site at 140,665 km2, of which 135,000 km2 are marine waters. Now the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (408,222 km2) and Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument (362,061 km2) are the first and second largest World Heritage sites.
Recent sites inscribed for their marine values include the Lagoons of New Caledonia (France) and Socotra Archipelago (Yemen). Other World Heritage Sites protecting significant marine biodiversity and marine ecosystem processes, and among the top 40 largest World Heritage sites, include Shark Bay (Australia), Islands & Protected Areas of Gulf of California (Mexico), Banc d’Arguin National Park (Mauritania), the Natural System of Wrangel Island (Russia), the Wadden Sea (Germany and The Netherlands), and Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Colombia).
Threats to Marine World Heritage
Marine World Heritage Sites face many threats, including from pollution, habitat loss, over-fishing, invasive species, uncontrolled development and climate change. Examples of these threats include oil spills in the Banc d’Arguin, and illegal dredging and clearing in the Belize Barrier Reef. Illegal or uncontrolled fisheries require careful monitoring and expensive surveillance in Galápagos, Malpelo, Cocos Island, Banc d’Arguin, and Tubbataha Reef. Climate change and associated increased sea temperatures also threaten coral reefs from bleaching and the functioning of other marine ecosystems.
Managing oceanic ecosystems
Another challenge facing Marine World Heritage sites is the protection of oceanic marine ecosystems. Most oceanic and deep-sea life falls outside the political jurisdiction of nations. For example, the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago and Rocas Atoll off the coast of Brazil, was inscribed in 2006 and serves as an example of a World Heritage site that protects deep sea and oceanic ecosystems, including seamounts. It was recognised as “an oasis of marine life in relatively barren, open ocean,” important for the distribution and life cycle of marine organisms in the Tropical South Atlantic—a key site for the protection of biodiversity and endangered species. Another property providing protection to oceanic ecosystems is the Gulf of California World Heritage site in Mexico, which includes the Cabo San Lucas Reserve, protecting a deep submarine canyon with spectacular submarine sand cascades, extending from 15 m below sea level to 2000 m. These marine World Heritage sites offer an opportunity to protect species and ecosystems that are vulnerable to unregulated high seas activities such as fishing and pollution from shipping.
Marine World Heritage Programme
Official Marine World Heritage Facebook Page
IUCN and World Heritage
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