The 1972 World Heritage Convention is one of the most significant international environmental agreements, ratified by 191 countries as of 2014. The Convention conserves and protects cultural and natural heritage of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).
Today, the World Heritage List contains 936 terrestrial and marine sites, in 153 countries. World Heritage natural sites protect almost 2.5 million km2 of the planet’s lands and waters. Because of the recent addition of large marine sites to the World Heritage List, some 57 per cent of the total area is marine, though in only 45 sites (5% of the number of World Heritage sites).
The interest in more comprehensive marine representation on the World Heritage site list can be traced to the 1994 Global Strategy of the World Heritage Committee and the 1997 paper on Wetland and Marine Protected Areas on the World Heritage List, followed by a UNESCO/IUCN/UN Foundation workshop in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2002.
A Marine World Heritage workshop, convened by IUCN in partnership with UNESCO and with support of Bahrain was held in 2009, leading to the Bahrain Action Plan for Marine World Heritage. This concluded that while regional representation is important, attention should also be given to a properly balanced approach to different types of marine ecosystems under the World Heritage Convention. This would ensure that in addition to coral reefs (that are included in about 40 per cent of the inscribed World Heritage marine sites) the World Heritage List also reflects the most outstanding examples of other types of marine ecosystems, such as kelp forests, seamounts, and open ocean ecosystems. Nations need assistance to achieve this and there is a clear need for better guidance.
To address this concern, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre’s Marine Programme and the IUCN World Heritage and Global Marine and Polar Programmes have invested in a number of studies and initiatives. This and the following pages address those in which CORDIO has been involved, as a lead organization and as a partner.
See all CORDIO’s marine World Heritage resources in the bookshelf below.