Strengthening conservation of the “crown jewels of the ocean”
Faced with the growing threat of industrialization of the oceans and the persistent rush for marine resources, managers from the 43 marine sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List will meet from 1 to 3 December in Honolulu, Hawaii to explore ways of strengthening conservation of these “crown jewels of the ocean”.
This first ever meeting of marine World Heritage managers will chart the way for a stronger community of site managers who collectively can play a bigger role in tackling the challenges of ocean conservation around the globe.
Renowned ocean explorer and marine conservationist Jean-Michel Cousteau and Greg Stone, senior vice-president and chief scientist for oceans at Conservation International, will give keynote addresses at the meeting, which coincides with an official ceremony for inscription of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (USA), which was added to the World Heritage List in August 2010, along with the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (Kiribati).
“World Heritage – the very words evoke the global mission to protect the most exceptional and iconic places in the world,” said Francesco Bandarin, Assistant Director General of Culture. “Out of nearly 6,000 marine protected areas now designated worldwide, only 43 have the highest internationally recognized status for conservation, UNESCO World Heritage Listing.”
Marine World Heritage was first recognized by UNESCO in 1981 with the inscription of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage List. It was joined by such emblematic sites as The Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Ha Long Bay (Viet Nam), Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines), or The Wadden Sea (Germany/Netherlands) and Everglades National Park (USA).
Today, approximately 1.4 million km2 of ocean (about 0.4% of the world’s oceans or an area about the size of the Gulf of Mexico) are protected under the World Heritage Convention, including five of the ten largest marine protected areas on the planet.
Together, these sites represent the “crown jewels of the ocean”, places recognized by the international community for their outstanding beauty, exceptional biodiversity, or unique ecological, biological and geological processes, and selected through a rigorous, multi-year inscription process.
World Heritage status often provides governments and conservationists with the ultimate means to halt damaging economic development. In 1999, for example, plans to enlarge a salt factory to commercial scale in El Vizcaino (Mexico) were countered, enabling the last pristine lagoon for Pacific grey whale reproduction to remain untouched.
The site managers’ meeting is co-organized by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and financed by ten other national governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.
UNESCO: Gina Doubleday, Tel: +33 1 45 68 16 60; g.doubleday(at)unesco.org
NOAA: Matthew Stout, Tel: +1 240 461 8450; Matthew.Stout@noaa.gov