Nearly half – 114 out of 229 – of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, according to a new WWF report.
However, millions of people rely on these sites and its natural resources for basic human needs such as water, food and shelter. World Heritage sites can be areas of sustainable development if managed correctly, in fact currently, 90 percent provide jobs and many long-term benefits that go beyond the site itself. Now more than ever, we need to call on governments, industry and travelers to protect World Heritage sites and the benefits they provide.
Here is just a small sampling of the many World Heritage sites you can visit with WWF and Natural Habitat Adventures.
1. Belize’s Barrier Reef Reserve System
Why it’s important: Our trip visits the South Water Caye, which lies off the coast of Belize and is a part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS), comprising of seven protected areas. BBRRS has extreme diversity in its reef types in a very small area. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (MAR), which BBRRS system is a part of, is the second largest coral reef system in the world. It’s currently estimated that only 10% of all species have been discovered in the BBRRS. There are more than 500 fish species, 246 marine flora and 178 terrestrial plants, not to mention numerous endangered species living within the BBRRS such as the West Indian manatee and three species of sea turtle.
Conservation: This site is currently on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The overuse of marine resources, coastal development and oil and gas exploration threaten this pristine habitat. Read more about what you can do to help and take action.
Which Trip: Ultimate Belize Nature Safari
When: January – March
2. Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve
Why it’s important: The Selous is actually four times the size of the more well-known Serengeti, measuring about 19,000 sq. miles and contains an extremely high diversity and density of species.
Conservation: This site is currently on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Though it contains globally significant population of African elephants and critically endangered black rhino, the Tanzanian government has awarded at least 50 concessions for oil, gas and mining extraction that overlap onto the site. These activities have also allowed increased acces to the site and led to an increase in poaching. Now, only 11,000 elephants remain in the Reserve, 90 percent less than when it was listed as a World Heritage site in 1982. WWF is calling on governments, industry and people to help protect these sites.
Which Trip: Custom Tanzania Safari
3. Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands
Why it’s important: Though more well-known than other destinations, the Galápagos Islands has been called a “living museum.” The extreme isolation of these islands (621 miles from the coast of Ecuador) has allowed for a variety of unusual species to thrive, including the endemic Galápagos giant tortoise, penguins, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, Darwin’s finches, which inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Conservation: Though listed on the World Heritage List in 1978, WWF has been working here since 1962. WWF helped fund the construction of the Charles Darwin Research Station and continues to play an integral role in managing fisheries, tourism, and the Galápagos Marine Reserve.
4. Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park & National Reserve
Why it’s important: The 1.4 million acre park was listed for its exceptional natural beauty and significant geological processes and features. The park’s eponymous glaciers cover about half of the park. The park itself covers about 1.4 million acres. The rough, extreme terrain provide it with natural protection, however, the surrounding protected areas also provide extra protection from encroachment or harmful development.
Conservation: Livestock presence, invasive species pose threats the park’s ecosystem. Tourism must also be managed carefully.
Which Trip: Peaks, Lakes & Glaciers of Patagonia
When: December – March
5. Botswana’s Okavango Delta
Why it’s important: The biggest inland delta system is found in the middle of an arid desert and plays a big role in geological processes, such as the direction of water flow, flooding and dehydration in the Delta. Every year, rains in Angola flow through the River Okavango, spreading across 6,000 square miles of the wetlands, providing a reliable source of water for the many at-risk species who call the Okavango Delta home. Wildlife include the African wild dog, cheetah, black and white rhino, elephants and antelope to name a few.
Conservation: The African wild dog’s current population numbers about 6,600 and are threatened by human-wildlife conflict, disease and expanding human settlement. WWF works to ensure that at-risk and endangered species such as the wild dog, have access to healthy, connected habitat.
Which Trip: Secluded Botswana Safari
When: May – October
6. Canada/United States Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
Why it’s important: Bordering the United States’ famed Glacier National Park is Waterton Lakes National Park, which offers equally stunning views. The headwaters of three major watersheds begin at Waterton Glacier and drain into three different oceans. These separate water systems allow for the existence of many diverse species within a small area.
Conservation: The establishment of an international peace park provided a unique way to approach transboundary conservation and is now being used as a model to encourage the development of more international peace parks
When: July – September
7. Ethiopia’s Simien National Park
Why it’s important: The Simien Mountains host Ethiopia’s highest peak (15,157 feet). Millions of years of erosion have formed the dramatic landscape that many at-risk species call home, including the Ethiopian wolf, the Walia ibex and the gelada baboon.
Conservation: Currently, Simien is on the World Heritage in Danger List, human settlement, intensive agricultural development and livestock use have affected the habitat of several species. The park is in need of financial support to be able to carry out critical management functions, the extension of park boundaries and building stronger relationships with neighboring communities.
Which Trip: Wild Ethiopia: The Roof of Africa
When: February, October – November
8. Brazil’s Pantanal Conservation Area
Why it’s important: The Pantanal is one of the world’s largest wetland ecosystems, the Pantanal Conservation area sits between two major river basins and is estimated to cover about 462,000 acres. During the rainy season, October – April, the rivers flood the area, helping manage fish stocks and disperse nutrients throughout the system. Jaguars, hyacinth macaws, and threatened species such as the giant armadillo, anteater and otter call the Pantanal home.
Conservation: Intensive agriculture, deforestation and ranching pose threats to the ecological integrity of the region as well as a proposed waterway which would change the water flow and potentially destroy the Pantanal’s ecosystem. WWF helped develop a long-term vision and strategic plan for sustainable development in the region as there was none which posed a serious oversight. WWF-Brazil is working to improve water resource management and protect four tributaries by setting up the Pantanal Headwaters Pact to ensure commitments from local government, communities and businesses.
Which Trip: Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal
When: June – September
9. India’s Kaziranga National Park
Why it’s important: Kaziranga holds the largest population of the greater one-horned rhino, its population is currently estimated at 2,000 and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2007. Other wildlife include Asian elephant, wild water buffalo, gaur, sloth bear, migratory birds, Sambar deer and the endangered Ganges river dolphin.
Conservation: The greater one-horned rhino was once close to extinction in the early 1900s, by 1975 only 600 greater one-horned rhinos were left. WWF is now testing the translocation of rhinos to other appropriate national parks to bring back the population in areas where rhinos have disappeared such as Manas National Park which borders India and Bhutan. WWF works to secure habitat corridors so that rhinos have access to higher areas outside of the Kaziranga during annual floods which inundate the park.
Which Trip: The Grand India Wildlife Adventure
When: November – March
10. Nepal’s Chitwan National Park
Why it’s important: The habitat within the park provides one of the few remaining refuges for the greater one-horned Asian rhino, and Bengal tiger among other diverse species populations. Chitwan was also named Nepal’s first National Park.
Conservation: 50 percent of Chitwan’s annual tourism revenues are distributed to local buffer zone communities (the area around the national park boundaries). In 2014, that amounted to about US$1million. Tourism in the park is also indirectly responsible for creating about 30,000 jobs. Ownership of 70 forests in the buffer zone has also been given over to communities, these are called “community forests.” These buffer zones, security and management schemes have allowed for increases in wildlife populations. This wasn’t always the case, when the park was first created in 1973, local communities were restricted from using the park’s natural resources, the creation of the buffer zone in 1996 relieved these tensions and have set a model for national park conservation programs around the world.
Which Trip: Natural Jewels of Bhutan & Nepal
When: February – April
11. Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Why it’s important: These incredible forests contain a highly diverse number of tree species are home to almost half the population of the critically endangered mountain gorilla.
Conservation: In the 1970s this national park’s management structures disintegrated and led to exploitation of the forests’ resources. Today, the park is guided by an approved management plan and is under the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The forest is surrounded by high populations of people with little room for the creation of a buffer zone to reduce pressure on the forest although recent work with communities had allowed them to benefit from use of the forest through tourism.
Which Trip: The Great Uganda Gorilla Safari
When: June – November
12. United States’ Yellowstone National Park
Why it’s important: Yellowstone contains half of the world’s known geothermal features (10,000+) and provides an important base for research, public education and enjoyment.
Conservation: Protection offered by the park to flora and fauna has allowed populations to evolve unhampered by development or permanent human populations. Plains bison, considered near threatened, found in the park are the only wild, free-range bison remaining in the Great Plains area Native American tribes are working with WWF to restore large herds of bison across their lands once again. WWF works with Yellowstone National Park to conserve genetically important bison by translocating bison into appropriate landscapes.
Which Trip: Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf & Wildlife Safari
When: December – February