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Everglades, Madagascar rain forests added to List of World Heritage in Danger

Serious and continuing degradation of the Everglades aquatic ecosystem has caused the national park at the southern tip of Florida to be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, the World Heritage Committee decided at a meeting in Brazil this week.

Also moving on to the Danger List are the Atsinanana rain forests (Madgascar), the Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi (Uganda), and Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery (Georgia). The Galapagos Islands have been moved off the list. (Galapagos no longer on List of World Heritage in Danger)

The Everglades contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America, the United Nations Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) said in a statement.

UNESCO administers an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage which identifies places of cultural and natural heritage that “belong to all the peoples of the world.” Some 900 World Heritage sites have been identified–and about three dozen of them are on the Danger List.

The inscription of the Everglades on the Danger List was made at the request of the United States, UNESCO said in its statement. “It’s the second time the Everglades has been included on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It was first inscribed in 1993 following damage caused by Hurricane Andrew and a marked deterioration in water flows and quality resulting from agricultural and urban development. It was removed from the Danger List in 2007, in recognition of efforts to restore the Park and its wider ecosystem,” UNESCO said.

However, the degradation of the site has continued, the UN agency added. “Water inflows have been reduced by up to 60 percent and nutrient pollution increased to the point where the site is showing significant signs of eutrophication, loss of marine habitat and a subsequent decline in marine species.”

The U.S. has requested that experts from UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) visit the Everglades in 2010 to evaluate its state of conservation and assist in the development of a desired state of conservation with a view to removing the property from the Danger List as quickly as possible, UNESCO said.

Madagascar’s rain forests

The rain forests of the Atsinanana were added to the List of World Heritage in Danger because of illegal logging and hunting of endangered lemurs on the site, UNESCO said. (Madagascar’s logging crisis: Separating myth from fact)

“Despite a decree outlawing the exploitation and export of rosewood and ebony, Madagascar continues to provide export permits for illegally logged timber,” the World Heritage Committee noted. It also noted that countries that had ratified the World Heritage Convention are known destinations for this timber.

The Committee urged Madagascar “to take all necessary measures to enforce the decree and halt ilegal logging actvities.” It also encouraged “a high level meeting of countries concerned to ensure that illegal timber originating from Madagascar is both banned and prevented from entering their national markets”

“Having completed its separation from all other land masses more than 60 million years ago, Madagascar’s plant and animal life evolved in isolation. The rain forests of Atsinanana, comprising six national parks on the eastern side of the country, are critically important for maintaining ongoing ecological processes necessary for the survival of the island’s unique biodiversity, which reflects its geological history. Many species are rare and threatened, especially primates and lemurs,” UNESCO said.

Moving the forests to the World Heritage Danger List prompted a call to action from Conservation International (CI) to the international community to “take swift and effective action to prevent the loss of the world’s most important biological treasures.”

Madagascar has seen a dramatic increase in illegal logging, commercial poaching of lemurs, and other damaging environmental practices since last year’s coup–which has led to political turmoil and a pillaging of the nation’s biological assets, CI said in a statement.

“What has been happening in Madagascar … is little more than a smash-and-grab raid.”

“What has been happening in Madagascar since the coup is little more than a smash-and-grab raid,” said Russell A Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and a world expert on the ecology and wildlife of Madagascar.

“Unscrupulous companies have been taking advantage of the upheaval and the willingness of the current regime to allow highly damaging practices which bring no benefit to the nation and simply enrich a few greedy people.

“This has also shattered the nation’s tourist industry, which was a key driver in its economic development, and is pushing many species that exist nowhere else on earth to the brink of extinction. Hopefully adding this incredibly important area to the UNESCO Danger List will make the international community sit up and take notice of what is happening, and take serious steps to stop the destruction of Madagascar’s incredible natural resources,” Mittermeier said.

Tombs of Buganda Kings

In March 2010, fire almost completely destroyed the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga building, the main structure at the site which contained four royal Buganda tombs in Uganda. “The property, an outstanding example of an architectural style developed by the Buganda Kingdom since the 13th century, will be reconstructed,” UNESCO said.

Bagrati Cathedral

The construction of Bagrati Cathedral, named after Bagrat III, the first king of united Georgia, started at the end of the 10th century and was completed in the early years of the 11th century. The Gelati Monastery, whose main buildings were erected between the 12th and 17th centuries, is a well-preserved complex, with wonderful mosaics and wall paintings. The cathedral and monastery represent the flowering of medieval architecture in Georgia, UNESCO said.

“The Committee expressed its serious concern about irreversible interventions carried out on the site as part of a major reconstruction project. The Committee believes this project will undermine the integrity and authenticity of the site and should be immediately halted,” UNESCO said.

Posted by David Braun

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