Industrial development practices like unsustainable logging and over-exploitation of resources could threaten nearly half of the UNESCO World Heritage sites across the globe, including Everglades and the Great Barrier Reef.
The findings, brought to light in a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), finds 114 sites (designated protected areas) at risk. These include the Everglades, the Grand Canyon and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the United States.
WWF called for companies to comply with the appeals of the UN to designate the heritage sites as “no go” areas for practices like oil and gas exploration, mines, unsustainable timber production and over fishing, as reported by Reuters.
Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said, “This is staggering. We’re trying to raise a flag here.”
In addition to the threatened sites, 18 natural sites have been designated by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO as “in danger,” which is a severer condition. The Great Barrier Reef has been listed by the WWF as under threat from activities like mining and shipping. While Machu Picchu in the Andes was not on the U.N. list, it is now under threat from logging.
Some of the other sites that now find themselves under threat are Ecuador’s Galapagos islands and Russia’s Kamchatka volcanoes. According to the report, principal threats to these natural sites are “oil, gas or mining” and other “harmful industrial activity.”
Mechtild Rossler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, emphasized on the efforts taken by governments and private sector last year against “harmful extractive uses.”
“2015 saw an unprecedented level of action from governments and the private sector around the world,” he said.
“In January last year, the government of Kiribati declared its entire World Heritage site – the largest site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – off limits for fisheries; in May Shell decided to renounce drilling in the Chukchi Sea which threatened Wrangel Island Reserve System in Russia; and in December the government of Belize announced a permanent ban on oil extraction in its World Heritage area.”
But Lambertini noted that despite efforts taken, several sites still remain under threat from damage to the environment, as reported by Weather.com.
“World Heritage sites should receive the highest levels of protection, yet we are often unable to safeguard even this important fraction of the Earth’s surface,” he said. “We all agree that these are some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet, now we need to work together to let these sites provide for the well-being of people and nature.”