20,000 endangered species survive thanks to 1% of the land surface designated as natural heritage.

World Natural Heritage Sites, despite representing only 1% of the planet’s surface, contain a fifth of the world’s mapped fauna and flora diversity and are the “last bastion” for 20,000 threatened species, starting with the vaquita. Panda bears.

This discovery, which surprised experts because of the concentration of so much wealth in such a small area, is the main conclusion. The first global study conducted by UNESCO to analyze biodiversity in World Heritage sites, A list that currently includes 1,157 worldwide.

The majority of these are for cultural reasons (900), compared to 218 with natural heritage status and 39 with mixed classification (both natural and cultural).

“We can consider World Heritage sites to be the last bastion against extinction,” said Lazare Elundu-Assommo, UNESCO’s World Heritage Director, when he presented the study, which was carried out in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, to the press in Paris. (IUCN).

In particular, the 3.5 million square kilometers designated as a natural World Heritage Site – slightly larger than India – is home to, for example, a third of the last remaining elephants, tigers and pandas, and at least one in ten great apes, giraffes. lions and rhinoceroses.

As well as the last 60 Javan rhinos, 80 Sumatran two-horned rhinos and the last 200 pink iguanas on the planet. These places range from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to Iguazu Falls in Argentina or the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador).

Also on the list is the Doñana National Park in Spain, whose evolution worries UNESCO due to drought caused by overexploitation of groundwater, which will be discussed at the next meeting of the World Heritage Committee, which will take place from 10 to 25 September. Riyadh.

The studied sites are believed to have a high natural wealth, which leads to their declaration as a World Heritage Site. Still, the global view of the biodiversity reservoir they represent has yielded “impressive and unexpected results,” said Tim Badman, director of the IUCN’s Heritage and Culture Program.

Third, in a critical situation

For this conservation expert, natural sites are “unreliable” in protecting heritage and the importance of “ecosystem integrity” for their survival is underestimated, which in turn also depends on the preservation of their surrounding environment.

“Many times we only think of cultural sites, but here we also want to show that natural world heritage sites also exist,” Tales Carvalho Resende, one of the study’s co-authors, told EFE.

Despite the high level of protection afforded by the World Heritage Declaration, which comes with the political commitment of participating countries to preserve them for the benefit of humanity, a third of the natural sites on the list are in a “critical” situation.

Until 2020, IUCN estimates that the main threats are factors such as invasive species or development pressures (building infrastructure, deforestation, agriculture, etc.). But since then, the climate crisis has been a major source of danger.

“Every degree that (global temperature) rises is likely to double the number of species at risk,” Elundu-Asomo warned.

Other risk factors are conflicts, such as in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Virunga National Park; Or illegal hunting and fishing, which has reduced the number of vaquitas endemic to the Gulf of California (Mexico) to only ten worldwide.

Faced with these problems, UNESCO and IUCN called on the nearly 200 signatories to the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention to strengthen the protection and management of the world’s natural heritage through “real action policies” and “national strategies”. In the words of Elundu-Asomo.

Source: El Diario

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