DOI: Florida Everglades Deserve More Protection

Florida’s Everglades are set to receive new protections under a new initiative proposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

The project would establish a new national wildlife refuge in Florida’s Kissimmee River Valley, as well as afford the area new protections. Under the program, the DOI would purchase 50,000 acres of the designated area from willing sellers in order to establish a wildlife refuge.

An additional 100,000 acres would be protected through conservation easements purchased from landowners, the DOI explains. These private landowners would still own their land, as well as retain the right to develop crops and raise cattle; however, the easements would ensure that the land could not be developed.

Although the preliminary proposal for the Everglades conservation project was first announced in January, it was refined using input from public comment periods.

The DOI’s announcement comes less than two weeks after Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann commented to the Associated Press that she’d be willing to drill for oil in the Everglades if it were done “responsibly.”

How she intends to destroy a World Heritage site “responsibly” is quite the enigma. But here’s hoping that the DOI can finalize the protections before she – or another member of her political party – has a crack at it.



Five Natural World-Heritage Sites Humans Are Ruining

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.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo):

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.

Garamba National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo):

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.

Everglades National Park (United States):

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.

Preserving Libya’s Cultural Heritage

Old Town of Ghadamès. (Photo credit: ©UNESCO/ Yvon Fruneau)

Libya has recently grabbed headlines for its political turmoil, but there’s another important aspect of the conflict that deserves to be mentioned: it’s history. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is calling on the coalition involved in military operations in Libya to respect the country’s cultural heritage by refraining from committing any damage to its World Heritage sites.

Of the 10 states in the coalition (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Qatar, Spain, United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and the U.S.), eight are party to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two protocols, which require that military operations be conducted away from cultural sites.

Temple of Zeus, Cyrene. (Photo credit: ©UNESCO//Thierry Jolly)

The World Heritage sites include the Old Town of Ghadamès, one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities; the Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus, which features thousands of cave paintings dating from 12,000 B.C. to A.D. 100; the Archaeological Site of Cyrene, ruins of what was once a province of the Roman Empire; the Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna, which represents an early artistic realization of urban planning; and the Archaeological Site of Sabratha, a Phoenician trading post that was once part of the Numidian Kingdom of Massinissa.

To learn more about Libya’s cultural heritage or any of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, explore UNESCO’s interactive map or view National Geographic’s guides.