Nearly half of World Heritage sites are at risk, facing threats to their outstanding universal values, a new report has found. This finding calls for action from government officials as World Heritage sites do not only provide a beautiful view to behold, they also help local communities in their livelihood.

World Heritage sites are situated in large natural areas. Therefore, the health of a vast ecosystem significantly affects the integrity of these world-renowned sites. Industrial activities, when performed on a large scale, have tremendous impact on these natural wonders, causing them to possibly sustain permanent damage.

"As part of a broader network of protected areas, natural World Heritage sites support some of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet, and their challenges and successes are representative of these broader protected areas," the World Wildlife Fund report reads.

World Heritage sites provide local communities with basic resources such as food and fuel. Aside from that, they give people income opportunities in the industries of tourism and international trade. With this, it is critically vital to act upon the problem.

World Heritage Sites And Their Outstanding Universal Value

The Earth consists of 229 natural and mixed World Heritage sites, located in 96 different countries. These sites are considered to have outstanding universal value, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes as "cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity."

Apart from sites exhibiting natural beauty, there are also World Heritage sites that are recognized for their artistic, historic and typological value, with some sites representing a unique aesthetic achievement or being an example of a structure that shows a significant stage in history.

Examples of iconic natural landscapes that have been named World Heritage sites include the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, the Grand Canyon in the United States and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. These sites are representations of great natural beauty, ecology, geology and diverse biology.

Harmful Industrial Activities

Harmful industrial activities threaten not only the World Heritage sites but also the people that live near them and in the buffer zones. Such are most commonly done by multinational firms in the fields of oil and gas extraction, mining, illegal logging and construction, among other industries.

About 11 million people who depend on World Heritage sites may be affected by the negative impacts of these industrial activities. Social, economic and environmental benefits meant for these people may be hindered.

One example of an industrial threat that has caused a World Heritage site to suffer is overfishing, which is defined by having more fish caught than are naturally produced.

In the Banc d'Arguin National Park in Mauritania, which is the richest fishery in West Africa, people face risks to their livelihoods because of industrial trawlers or boats that have attached large fishing nets that go through the water. This method of fishing catches tremendous amounts of fish as the net drags along at the bottom of the sea.

Taking Action

Working to prevent these harmful industrial doings and targeting sustainable alternatives may be the key to enhance World Heritage sites and the benefits they provide to communities.

Some authorities have chosen to embark on sustainable development techniques to manage the sites. Sustainable development is defined as meeting the needs of the present without sacrificing the abilities of the future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable development is grounded by the idea that the environment provides long-term economic benefits. It also prioritizes efforts that support long-term development programs rather than industrial activities that not only do harm to the environment but also generate one-time or short-term profit.

An example of a World Heritage site that received sustainable development intervention is the Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines. The rich marine ecosystem of the site once suffered from dynamite and cyanide fishing, but the government took steps to ensure that these stop.

In 1998, the Philippine government established a new management board and office that specifically cater to the reef. It also declared the site as a no-take zone to protect the fish nurseries and assist in the recovery of fish stocks. The government consulted local fishermen, social groups and commercial fishing operators so it can create a management approach that can ensure sustainability to the site. Since then, the fish stocks quadrupled, making these nearly seven times more the average fish biomass across the entire country.

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