Valuable sites, which protect fragile environments, are at risk worldwide from threats ranging from oil and gas exploration to mining and illegal logging, according to a new WWF report.
Important wildlife habitats that are threatened include the Great Barrier Reef, Belize Barrier Reef, Grand Canyon National Park, Lake Malawi National Park, Selous Game Reserve and the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries.
According to the WWF study, 114 of the 229 natural and mixed World Heritage sites have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them or they are under threat from at least one other harmful industrial activity.
The research also shows that over 20 per cent of natural World Heritage sites face threats from multiple harmful industrial activities.
CEO of WWF-UK David Nussbaum said, “Governments and businesses need to prioritise long-term value over short-term revenue and respect the status of these incredible places.
“We need to turn away from harmful industrial activities and focus on sustainable alternatives that enhance World Heritage sites, their values and the benefits they provide.”
In one example cited in the report, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is shown to be at risk from unsustainable coastal construction, large-scale mangrove clearance, harmful agricultural run-off and the potential of dangerous oil exploration.
There are 229 World Heritage sites with natural Outstanding Universal Value – 197 are classified as natural sites and 32 are classified as both natural and cultural (mixed) sites – that account for 22 per cent of all 1031 World Heritage properties.
Natural and mixed World Heritage sites protect over 280 million hectares of land and sea and represent more than eight per cent of the total area of all recorded protected areas.
Of all natural World Heritage sites, 108 are forest sites, 46 are marine sites and 15 are transboundary sites.