BY: SAMANTHA TAPP
In the first ever global quantitative assessment of how humanity is negatively affecting Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS), things definitely could’ve looked better. NWHS are globally recognized sites that hold some of the world’s most valuable and beautiful natural assets. Globally there are 1,031 sites that are recognized NWHS and many are at risk because of us humans doing what we can’t seem to stop doing: getting in the way of nature.
A recent study published in the journal of Biological Conservation was led by researchers from the University of Queensland, Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Northern British Columbia and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to assess the human impact on NWHS.
“The world would never accept the Acropolis being knocked down, or a couple of pyramids being flattened for housing estates or roads, yet right now, across out planet, we are simply letting many of our Natural World Heritage Sites become severely altered,” said Dr. James Watson, University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
In 1972 The World Heritage Convention was created to protect and conserve the natural and cultural resources that we know as the NWHS. The Convention holds nations responsible and accountable for the preservation of their respected sites and they must report on their progress to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). According to the study, over 190 countries were signatories to The Convention at the time the study was conducted.
The recent study revealed some alarming statistics, mainly that human pressure has increased in 63 per cent of NWHS since 1993 and across all continents except Europe (the largest negative effects in Asian NWHS) and there has been significant forest loss in 91 per cent of NWHS, with a global mean loss of 1.5 per cent per site since 2000.
More than 100 of the NWHS are being increasingly damaged, according to the measurements by the global Human Footprint criteria. The measurement is based on roads, agriculture, forest loss, urbanization and industrial infrastructure.
As more and more rural areas become commercialized and the pressures of human life continue to negatively affect the environment, many natural habitats are at risk of extinction. In the cases of NWHS, a significant amount of human activity inside a site has the potential to damage the ecological condition of the site, which could force the site onto the list of World Heritage in Danger and subsequently its World Heritage status could be revoked.
The most at risk sites are the following NWHS.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, India
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, which runs across the Canadian and US border, lost 23 per cent of its forests
“World Heritage natural sites should be maintained and protected fully,” said Allan. “For a site to lose ten or twenty per cent of its forecasted area in two decades is alarming and must be addressed. Urgent intervention is clearly needed to save these places and their outstanding natural universal values.”
The researchers are hoping this study can shine light on a growing issue and can be used as a global call for help to sustain these historical sites.
“It is time for the global community to stand up and hold governments to account,” he said, “so that they take the conservation of natural World Heritage Sites seriously.”