World Heritage in danger

Illegal grubbing and poaching threaten a large part of the world heritage also in Europe

The Bialowieza Forest is the last major remnant of the original lowland primeval forest in Eeropa © Ralf Lotys (Certainly) / CC-by-sa 3.0
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The Bialowieza Forest in Poland, the Vaquita Porpoises in California, and the Atsinanana Rainforest in Madagascar: all of them are in acute danger of being World Heritage, as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports. The problem is that status as a world heritage alone is not enough to ensure that countries actually implement effective conservation measures.

Whether the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands or the last great forest of Europe, the Bialowieza Forest: they all represent unique ecosystems and have therefore been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The problem: Although these areas are identified as particularly worthy of protection, sanctions for violations, the UNESCO can not impose. At the most it can threaten to deprive the area of ​​status.

Threatened heritage

As a result, many World Heritage sites are in acute danger. In the case of the Great Barrier Reef, this is mainly due to climate change, which repeatedly causes severe coral bleaching. The Spanish Doñana wetlands suffer from dehydration and over-fertilization and forests like the Amazon or the Yellowstone National Park are threatened by deforestation.

Now, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) alarm. Because of the 57 World Heritage sites she manages, two thirds are in acute danger. Above all, illegal clearing and poaching endanger the habitats. "It is alarming that even the planet's greatest natural resources are threatened by illegal activity, " says IUCN Director-General Inger Andersen.

Last forest of Europe

One of the threatened areas is the Bialowieza Forest in the borderland of Poland and Belarus. The almost 150, 000 hectare large forest area is the last major remnant of old European lowland jungle. Not only wild bison live here, but also more than 250 species of birds and some of the oldest and largest oak trees in Europe. display

Although much of the forest is a national park, Poland still clears parts of the jungle and removes wood for economic use. The experts at the IUCN fear that this endangers the integrity of the habitat. They recommend an on-site investigation to UNESCO. If the threat is confirmed, the jungle could end up on the list of endangered World Heritage sites in 2018.

Of the Vaquita porpoises there are only 30 copies left - and they too are threatened with illegal fishing. NOAA

Vaquitas: Only 30 copies left

Even more acute is the threat to the Vaquita porpoises in the Gulf of California: according to recent estimates, only 30 of them exist. The world's smallest whales, only 1.50 meters long, are found only in this marine area and are now threatening to completely die out. The reason: They die as bycatch in the illegal fishing for the also endangered Totoaba fish.

It also looks bad for the Atsinanana rainforest in Madagascar: It has been on the list of critically endangered World Heritage sites since 2010. Illegal impact of ebony and rosewood trees destroys the habitat of several endangered lemur species. Also poaching decimates the existence. Here more urgent protection for forest and inhabitants must be found, says the IUCN.

"We are responsible!"

"The World Heritage sites are the most unique and valuable places on our planet, for nature and for us humans. If they are destroyed, they are lost forever, "says Andersen. "We, as an international community, are responsible for providing effective protection."

Several threatened lemur species live in the Atsinanana rainforest in Madagascar. IUCN / Geoffroy Mauvais

The fact that concerted actions against poaching and deforestation can definitely do something, is proven by the positive example of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest in Thailand. Through close cooperation with neighboring countries and more money for patrols, the illegal impact of rosewood has receded, as the IUCN reports.

This Sunday, the 412th session of the World Heritage Committee will begin in Krakow. It will decide on new applications for inclusion in the World Heritage Listings, but it will also officially place World Heritage Sites on the "Red List".

(International Union for Conservation of Nature, 03.07.2017 - NPO)