Sunday, July 13, 2008

8 Natural Wonders Added to UN Heritage List

The island of Surtsey, found 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the southern coast of Iceland, was formed by volcanic eruptions during the 1960s.

Named this week as a new World Heritage site, the island provides scientists with a unique laboratory to study the process of colonization by plant and animal life. Borne by ocean currents, the first seeds arrived in 1964. Molds, bacteria, and fungi arrived the following year. Plants and invertebrates are now relatively abundant, as are bird species—89 and counting.

Chosen by a committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Heritage Sites describe natural and cultural areas recognized for their universal value to humanity.

This week officials added 27 new sites to the UNESCO list of 878 areas (679 cultural, 174 natural) worthy of preservation and protection.

Socotra Archipelago, Yemen

Dragon's blood trees grow in the archipelago, which consists of four islands and islets two rocky path for the 150 miles (250 km) from the Horn of Africa.

"The site is of universal importance because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna: 37 percent of Socotra's 825 plant species, 90 percent of its reptile species, and 95 percent of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world," the UNESCO World Heritage Committee said in a press statement on July 8, 2008.

Joggins Fossil Cliffs, Canada

Full old fossils dating as far back as 354 million years ago, this 9 miles (14.7 km) tract of coastal states cliffs in Nova Scotia is to add eight new natural wonders in July 2008 at the United Nations list of World Heritage sites .

Once a rain forest teeming with life, the cliffs hold fossils from 148 ancient species and 20 groups of fossil footprints.

Lagoons of New Caledonia (France), Pacific Ocean

Part of a French-controlled island cluster located about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) east of Australia, the lagoons of New Caledonia, including those around the small island in the picture above form the third largest coral reef structure in the world.

The healthy, intact marine ecosystems are home to threatened fish species, turtles, and the world's third largest population of dugongs, large vegetarian mammals related to manatees.

The lagoons were named a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2008.

Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

Every year, millions if not billions, of Monarch butterflies as the above-winter in densely forested mountains 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Mexico City.

"In the spring these butterflies begin an eight-month migration that takes them all the way to Eastern Canada and back, during which time four successive generations are born and die," the World Heritage Committee said in a written statement upon announcing new sites in July 2008.

Mount Sanqingshan National Park, China

Ribboned with forests, waterfalls, white rainbow and fantastically shaped rocks granite peaks and pillars resemble that animal and human silhouettes, this 56,710-hectare (22950 acres) National Park Huaiyu over the mountain chain in the Chinese province of Jiangxi.

The park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2008.

Saryarka Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan

Split between the Naurzum and Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserves, the wetlands that grace this 1.1 million acre (450,344 hectare) region provide a key stopover on the Central Asia flyway for migratory water birds from Africa, Europe, and South Asia.

The steppe and lakes in this region were mostly dry on the UN list of World Natural Heritage sites in July 2008.

Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona, Switzerland

A textbook example of mountain building through continental collision, this mountainous area in northeast Switzerland has been studied by geologists since the 1700s.

The area was a UNESCO World Heritage on 8 July 2008.