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A look at some of Earth’s most precious places

Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, China (Image 1 of 12)

The Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces is located in the southern part of Yunnan province in China. For over 1,300 years a complex system of channels has funneled water from high in the Ailao Mountains through terraces all the way down to the banks of the Hong River. According to the World Heritage List website, “the resilient land management system of the rice terraces demonstrates extraordinary harmony between people and their environment, both visually and ecologically, based on exceptional and long-standing social and religious structures.”

Photo by Jialiang Gao (Wikimedia Commons)

Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Image 2 of 12)

Designation as an “in danger” World Heritage site has helped raise awareness of the struggles facing Virunga National Park and the endangered mountain gorillas who call its overgrown, leafy green slopes home.

Photo by weesam2010 (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina (Image 3 of 12)

Located in the Austral Andes region of southern Argentina, Los Glaciares National Park is home to the largest ice cap outside of Antarctica and Greenland. Nearly 50 large glaciers — many of which are still advancing despite the threat of climate change — are scattered across the park.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Landscape of Grand Pré, Canada (Image 4 of 12)

The Grand Pré marshland and archaeological sites can be found in the southern Minas Basin of Nova Scotia. This protected site shows how early European settlers adapted to the North American landscape along the Atlantic Coast.

Photo by UNESCO

Namib Sand Sea, Angola, Namibia and South Africa (Image 5 of 12)

The Namib Sand Sea covers over three million hectares and runs along the Atlantic Ocean in Namibia. This unique coastal fog desert is home to a wide array of endemic plants and animals that have evolved and survived despite the extreme environment.

Photo by NASA

Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia (Image 6 of 12)

Rainforests around the world are under threat from logging, mining, agricultural expansion and more. Indonesia is a hotbed of concern, which makes preservation of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site all the more pressing. The area — consisting of three national parks — is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, over 200 mammal species and 580 bird species. Of the mammals, many, such as the Sumatran orangutan, are endemic to Indonesia.

Photo by Wild Sumatra (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Everglades National Park, United States (Image 7 of 12)

The World Heritage List classifies Everglades National Park in the U.S. as “in danger.” The designation includes locations threatened by “armed conflict and war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization and unchecked tourist development.” The greatest challenges facing the Everglades include water withdrawal, agricultural development and urban expansion.

Photo by Joe Parks (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Mount Etna, Italy (Image 8 of 12)

Mount Etna — located on the eastern coast of Sicily — is the highest island mountain in the Mediterranean and also the world’s most active stratovolcano. Supporting endemic flora and fauna, the volcano is known as a “natural laboratory for the study of ecological and biological processes,” according to the World Heritage Convention website.

Photo by tobyct (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Putorana Plateau, Russia (Image 9 of 12)

The Putorana Plateau can be found in north central Siberia about 100 km above the Arctic Circle. The area includes subarctic and arctic ecosystems consisting of taiga forests and tundra along with a major migration route for reindeer.

© iStockphoto.com/Zastavkin

Ningaloo Coast, Australia (Image 10 of 12)

Located in far western Australia along the Indian Ocean, the Ningaloo Coast includes both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. According to the World Heritage Centre, “On land the site features an extensive karst system and network of underground caves and water courses.” Just offshore is one of the world’s longest near-shore reefs.

Photo by UNESCO

El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, Mexico (Image 11 of 12)

El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in northern Mexico is a dramatic landscape where dormant volcanic lava flows collide with 200-meter tall sand dunes. Despite the harsh environment, a surprising number of plant and wildlife species such as the Sonoran Pronghorn call the region home.

Photo by Defiance Imaging (Creative Commons | Flickr)

East Rennell, Solomon Islands (Image 12 of 12)

Located in the South Pacific, East Rennell at the southern end of Rennel Island is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The site is home to the brackish Lake Tegano. Aided by climate change, the lake’s rising waters are threatening the livelihoods of the nearly 1,200 people who live within this protected area.

Photo by whl-travel (Creative Commons | Flickr)


How do we replace the irreplaceable? Is such a thing even possible?

Rather than wait to find out, the World Heritage Centre — part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO — has decided to proactively protect cultural and natural sites around the world before they’re lost.

With locations in nearly every corner of the globe, from the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan to the Matobo Hills in Zimbabwe, the World Heritage Centre’s World Heritage List includes 981 places. Once on the list, the designation draws international attention to ongoing threats such as development, armed conflict, pollution and poaching, and the World Heritage Committee is often able to work directly with governments on preservation and protection measures. Inclusion on the list has been used to protect the Pacific gray whale in El Vizcaino Bay, Mexico and rhino inside Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal, among other successes.

According to the World Heritage Centre’s website, in order to be included on the list, “sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria,” such as containing “superlative natural phenomena” or “the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity.” View Ensia homepage

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