Last updated: 10:30 AM ET, Thu April 07 2016

A Disappearing World: Half of World Heritage Sites Threatened

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | April 07, 2016

A Disappearing World: Half of World Heritage Sites Threatened

PHOTO: San Pedro Belize (Photo by Brian Major)

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has released a new report that shows that half of the world’s World Heritage sites are being threatened by harmful industrial activities. According to the report that was commissioned by the WWF and produced by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, out of 229 places, 114 natural and mixed World Heritage sites have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them or are being threatened by harmful industrial activity.

“World Heritage sites should receive the highest levels of protection, yet we are often unable to safeguard even this important fraction of the Earth’s surface,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International. “We all agree that these are some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet, now we need to work together to let these sites provide for the well-being of people and nature.”

The study calls out Belize’s Barrier Reef Reserve System as one example of how industry is harming our natural treasures. It says that the reef system is under threat by unsustainable coastal construction, large mangrove clearance and harmful agricultural run-off as well as the threat of potential oil exploration.

READ MORE: Is Belize Officially On the Mainstream Tourism Radar?

“Conserving the environment does not hurt economic opportunities, it allows us to build sustainably on these irreplaceable assets,” said Roberto Troya, WWF’s director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Threats to World Heritage sites in places as diverse as Belize, Spain and Tanzania demonstrate how widespread the risks run and should unite us in our effort to protect these essential areas.”

The WWF is calling on governments to protect these natural and cultural treasures, which cover just .5 percent of the earth’s surface. The organization notes that these sites play key roles in for the people and communities in which they reside both economically and culturally. According to the report, 90 percent of natural World Heritage sites provide jobs and benefits that extend far beyond their boundaries.

The report calls for a number of measures to help prevent the loss of any of these World Heritage sites. One calls on the private sector to refrain from activities that threaten to degrade these sites and to withhold financing of projects that involve industrial activity that could harm the area.

READ MORE: 4 Places To Visit Before Climate Change Destroys Them Forever

Another measure calls for civil society groups to participate in management and conservation of protected areas at the local, national and international levels, and promote the potential of such places to deliver sustainable development outcomes for people and nature.

If we work together to secure the future for World Heritage Sites, we take a step toward ensuring that the commitment made to sustainable development and climate action are more than words on paper, writes Lambertini in the report.

The study also established five global principles to follow and that will define a well-managed World Heritage site: valuation, investment decisions, governance, policymaking and enforcement. The goal of these is to, going forward, help achieve a balance between conservation, sustainability and development and reduce the threats to our shared heritage.

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