Meteorite dome, fossil valley, fjords join UN World Heritage List of natural sites

15 July 2005

A two-billion-year-old meteorite dome in South Africa, a fossil-rich valley in Egypt and in Norway two of the planet’s longest and deepest fjords are among seven natural sites newly inscribed on the United Nations World Heritage List.

With today’s additions the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List now numbers 160 natural sites and 24 mixed natural and cultural sites of outstanding universal value. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee reached the decisions yesterday at a weeklong meeting in Durban, South Africa.

The new sites are:

Vredefort Dome in South Africa, part of a larger meteorite impact structure, or astrobleme, dating back 2.023 million years, the oldest astrobleme found on earth and site of the world’s greatest known single energy release, which caused devastating global change, including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes.

Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, in the Western Desert of Egypt, containing invaluable fossil remains of the earliest, now extinct, suborder of whales, representing one of the major stories of evolution: the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal.

Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido island, Japan, an outstanding example of the interaction of marine and terrestrial ecosystems as well as extraordinary ecosystem productivity largely influenced by the formation of seasonal sea ice at the lowest latitude in the northern hemisphere.

The West Norwegian Fjords of Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, among the world’s longest and deepest, and among the most scenically outstanding anywhere, with narrow steep-sided crystalline rock walls rising up to 1,400 metres and extending 500 metres below sea level with numerous waterfalls.

Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California in north-western Mexico, called a natural laboratory for the investigation of speciation, with almost all major oceanographic processes occurring in the planet’s oceans present, a site of striking beauty that is home to 695 vascular plant species, 891 fish species, 90 of them endemic, 39 per cent of the world’s total species of marine mammals and a third of its marine cetacean species.

The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex in Thailand on the Cambodian border, a rugged mountainous area that is home to more than 800 species of fauna, including 112 mammal species, 392 species of birds and 200 reptiles and amphibians.

Coiba National Park, which is off the south-west coast of Panama, whose Pacific tropical moist forest maintains exceptionally high levels of endemic mammals, birds and plants due to the ongoing evolution of new species.

The 29th session of the 21-member Committee continues until Sunday with the inscription of new cultural sites on the World Heritage List.


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