The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) List of World Heritage sites contains over 900 of the most important natural and cultural locations in world. Sadly, 34 of these properties are considered “in danger,” facing threats such as pollution, human armed conflict, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization and unchecked tourism and development.
Here are five locations where humans have made their mark, perhaps irreversibly damaging some of the world’s most biodiverse sites.
Belize Barrier Reef (Belize):
The largest barrier reef in North America, this site comprises a diverse range of coastal lagoons, mangrove forests and estuaries. Home to many threatened species – such as marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile – over 425 species of plants and over 500 species of fish also inhabit the reef. Dangers to the site include heavy tourism and other human development in coastal areas.
Comprising mostly tropical forest, Kahuzi-Biega National Park is named for its two extinct volcanoes: Kahuzi and Biega. The park is home to one of the last groups of eastern lowland gorillas, of which only about 150 individuals remain, according to UNESCO. Kahuzi-Biega National Park is located in one of the most densely populated areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, posing a continuous threat to the park and its flora and fauna, including endangered species.
Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Madagascar):
This World Heritage site comprises six national parks in eastern Madagascar, one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. The African island is home to over 12,000 endemic plant species and several primate groups, including several species of lemurs. Madagascar’s Atsinanana Rainforests are critical to maintaining the island’s unique ecosystem and biodiversity, UNESCO says, but they continue to be threatened by deforestation.
Located in the northeastern part of the Congo, near the Sudanese border, Garamba National Park lies between the Nile and Zaire rivers. Savannahs, grasslands, woodlands, forests and swamps make up the landscape, which is home to animals such as elephants, giraffes, hippos, chimpanzees, leopards, lions, antelope and the extremely rare white rhinos, of which only about 30 individuals remain. Despite local efforts, poaching remains a significant concern for this World Heritage site.
This South Florida World Heritage site is the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most important breeding ground for wading birds in North America, according to UNESCO. Comprising freshwater marshes, tropical wetlands, and seagrass ecosystems, the Everglades are home to more than 400 species of birds, more than 275 species of fish, and over 800 species of land and water vertebrates. Some of these species include the Florida panther, snail kite, alligator, crocodile and manatee. However, these species continue to be threatened by loss of marine habitat, and the site remains in danger due to the degradation of the entire ecosystem, thanks to agricultural and urban development, and pollution.