IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges. It supports scientific research, manages field projects all over the world and brings governments, non-government organizations, United Nations agencies, companies and local communities together to develop and implement policy, laws and best practice. Eight new natural sites have been added to the World Heritage List this year, following IUCN’s recommendations. The new sites include the Socotra Archipelago in Yemen, Canada’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs, the French Lagoons of New Caledonia (see picture above), Saryarka in Northern Kazakhstan, Mount Sanqingshan National Park in China, Surtsey in Iceland, the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona, and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.
“These eight stunning natural sites are amongst the best of what nature has to offer,” says David Sheppard, Head of IUCN’s Protected Areas Programme. “Each site has been carefully inspected by IUCN and thoroughly deserves a place on the prestigious World Heritage List.”
The Socotra Archipelago has been dubbed the Galápagos of the Indian Ocean. It is especially rich in flora and fauna. About 37 percent of Socotra’s plant species, 90 percent of its reptile species and 95 percent of its land snail species cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Canada’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs have been termed the “coal age Galápagos” and are the world reference site for the Coal Age, which is about 300 millions year ago. The site bears witness to the first reptiles in Earth’s history, which are the earliest representatives of the amniotes, a group of animals that includes reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals.
“This is a fascinating site where you can literally see a slice of history,” says Tim Badman, World Heritage Advisor of IUCN’s Protected Areas Programme. “The Joggins Fossil Cliffs contain the best and most complete known fossil record of terrestrial life in the iconic Coal Age. You can actually see the remains of the first reptiles in the Earth’s history, as well as fossil trees, animals and plants.”
The tropical lagoons and coral reefs of New Caledonia form one of the three most extensive reef systems in the world. They are home to an exceptional variety of coral and fish species and have intact ecosystems with healthy populations of big fish and top predators.
Saryarka is a largely undisturbed area of Central Asian steppe and lakes in the Korgalzhyn and Naurzum State Nature Reserves. These are key stopover points for globally threatened species and provide feeding grounds for up to 15-16 million birds. They are also home to the critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica).
Mount Sanqingshan National Park was recommended for its outstanding natural beauty. Its forested and fantastically-shaped granite pillars and peaks can be appreciated by visitors from suspended walking trails.
Surtsey is a new island and was formed by volcanic eruptions in 1963-67. It has been legally protected from its birth and, as such, provides the world with a pristine natural laboratory, free from human interference. It has provided a unique scientific record of the process of colonisation of land by plants and animals.
The Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona, which includes the Glarus Overthrust, shows how mountains were formed through continental collisions and it has been studied since the 18th century.
The three core zones of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve protect eight overwintering colonies of the monarch butterfly in the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico. Perhaps a billion monarch butterflies overwinter here in close-packed clusters every year after a 3,500 to 4,500 km journey. Witnessing this unique phenomenon is an exceptional experience of nature.