Two thirds of natural areas on the World Heritage List are likely to be well conserved in the future. But more than 35 per cent, including the Great Barrier Reef, are at a risk from tourism, poaching, dams, invasive species and other critical threats.
These are the findings of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) World Heritage Outlook 2014 report, which is based on expert assessments of all 228 natural World Heritage sites.
According to the report, 21 per cent of the sites have a good conservation outlook and an additional 42 per cent are classified as good but with some concerns. World Heritage sites with a good conservation outlook include Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia, Mount Huangshan in China, the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Namib Sand Sea in Namibia.
More troubling is that 29 per cent face significant concerns, and 8 per cent are assessed as critical. The Great Barrier Reef, for instance, has been assessed as a site of significant concern because its fragile reef economy and marine biodiversity are at risk. While calls to address its threats have been made by the World Heritage Committee, other sites – such as Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, home to the Komodo Dragon – have fallen off the international radar.
The 19 sites that have a critical outlook require urgent, large-scale intervention. These include Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve where poaching is killing off the elephants, and Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, which is threated by deforestation and agricultural activities.
Natural World Heritage sites are globally recognised as the world’s most important protected areas and are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their unique natural values, such as the scale of natural habitats, intactness of ecological processes, viability of populations of rare species, as well as exceptional natural beauty.