Celebrating 10 years of the World Heritage Marine Programme

This milestone publication looks at what has been achieved in the 10 years since the establishment of the World Heritage Marine Programme, and what the future holds over the next decade.

In celebration of a decade since the establishment of the World Heritage Programme, UNESCO has released “The Future of the World Heritage Convention for Marine Conservation. Celebrating 10 years of the World Heritage Marine Programme”.

The World Heritage marine network includes the crown jewels of our ocean. It protects many of the world’s iconic coral reefs, the breeding grounds of the world’s largest healthy population of grey whales, the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens, the home of one of the world’s most ancient fish, the coelacanth, and that of the inimitable marine iguanas.

In the Indian Ocean, Aldabra Atoll protects an entire and unique atoll and island ecosystem on land and under the sea, and iSimangaliso Wetland Park protects this unique coastal wetland system.

Recognizing that World Heritage has a key role to play in ocean conservation, the World Heritage Marine Programme was established in 2005 with the goal to ensure the protection of outstanding marine places. Since the Programme was established, 16 new marine sites have been added to the World Heritage List, more than doubling the surface area protected in a little over 10 years. Today, it encompasses 49 sites in 37 countries that together make up about 10% by surface area of all the world’s marine protected areas.

The report celebrates some of the key programmes undertaken in the last 10 years. CORDIO has participated in some of these, including spearheading the new regional ecosystem approach to identifying potential sites of Outstanding Universal Value, and working with IUCN to prepare updated guidance on applying the World Heritage criteria to marine systems. We participated in this new publication, leading Chapter 7 on identifying gaps in the marine World Heritage list, and were part of the teams considering application of the World Heritage criteria to the Arctic (Chapter 8) and the High Seas (Chapter 9, and see the report).

The PDF is available from the World Heritage website here and a hard copy can be ordered here.



Click on the map below to see all the WH Marine sites.



UNESCO World Heritage marine sites. How do they differ from other marine protected areas?

The 1972 World Heritage Convention unites nations behind a shared commitment to preserve the world’s outstanding heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. The Convention was created to safeguard sites of natural or cultural significance that “need to be preserved as part of the world heritage of humankind as a whole”, and has recognized over 1,000 cultural and natural treasures in more than 160 countries that are considered of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

World Heritage sites are recognized for their OUV – places that are so unique and exceptional that their protection should be a shared and common responsibility of us all. A central difference between marine protected areas (MPAs) and marine World Heritage sites is the international oversight that comes with monitoring, evaluation and reporting obligations for the latter. To ensure the characteristics that make up a site’s World Heritage status will endure all sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List are subject to systematic monitoring and evaluation cycles embedded in the official procedures of the 1972 World Heritage Convention. Along with the recognition and inscription of an area on the List, the State of Conservation process is a key value added to the protection of MPAs that are globally unique. This monitoring and evaluation of all natural sites, including all marine ones, on UNESCO’s World Heritage List is done in cooperation with IUCN, which has an official advisory role, formally recognized under the World Heritage Convention.

The World Heritage Marine Programme has worked to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and resources across the community of managers of marine sites on the World Heritage List, creating a global network of conservation leaders that is increasingly equipped to navigate a changing ocean. Designation as a World Heritage site raises the visibility and profile of key ocean conservation concerns, and equips managers to advocate more effectively for their protection. Hence, the World Heritage Convention has played a crucial role in ensuring that local conservation problems receive international attention when their exceptional values are in jeopardy.