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A UNESCO World Heritage Site is deemed a place of special cultural or physical significance. There’s over 1,000 of them around the world including famous sites such as the Pyramids of Giza, Machu Picchu, the Great Barrier Reef, the Historic Centre of Rome and our very own Milford Sound (Fiordland National Park). These are some of the world’s most precious places, but they’re not immune to danger. The recent destruction of sites in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria have highlighted this, and UNESCO now has a list of ‘World Heritage Sites in Danger’. The list includes any site with imminent threats that could have adverse effects on the site, such as war, redevelopment or ecological damages. If you want to see these places, sooner is definitely better than later!
So, what makes the list? Well there’s currently about 50, mostly in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Congo. We’re certainly not suggesting you risk travel to these war torn countries of course, however there are some in more peaceful spots around the globe. Here’s a few you can visit, for now...
Belize Barrier Reef, Belize
The small country of Belize is in Central America, just south of Mexico’s Riviera Maya region. The country’s most visited attraction is its barrier reef which is the second biggest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. It boasts hundreds of species of colourful fish and corals, yet only 10% of the reef has ever been researched! It’s also home to the beautiful Great Blue Hole. The reef is in danger due to mangrove destruction and excessive development of coastal resorts and towns.
Portobelo-San Lorenzo, Panama
Officially called ‘The Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama’, Portobelo and San Lorenzo are forts built in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Spanish to protect their colonial interests in the region, i.e. their galleons full of gold! They’re on the list due to inadequate maintenance and risk of encroaching development.
Santa Ana de Coro, Venezuela
This gorgeous town in the west of Venezuela was one of the first colonial settlements in the America’s, and was the first German settlement. The city has a staggering collection of over 600 heritage buildings dating as far back as 1527. There’s grand cathedrals, luxurious mansions and beautiful city squares. However many buildings are in a state of disrepair due to rain and floods which plague the area and threaten its existence.
Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works, Chile
Deep in the remote Pampa Desert you’ll find a series of ghost towns dating back to 1880. They were once bustling mining towns pulling saltpeter (also known as fertilizer sodium nitrate) out of the ground which was valuable and in high demand. Long abandoned, the towns are now at risk of disappearing due to lack of upkeep.
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
The massive Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Africa at more than 50,000 square kilometres. It is relatively undisturbed by humans and holds significant populations of elephant, black rhinoceros, cheetah, giraffe, hippopotamus and crocodile, amongst many other species. However poachers (and maybe dentists) are taking a terrible toll on the wildlife such as elephants which have plummeted in numbers from 109,000 in 2009 to a mere 13,000 in 2013.
Historical Monuments of Mtskheta, Georgia
Lying just 20 kilometres north of Georgia’s capital city of Tblisi is its former capital city, Mtskheta. Here you find dozens of medieval churches and cathedrals, famed for being the best remaining examples of medieval architecture. The city also holds significance for Christians due to it being the birthplace of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Recent deterioration stonework and frescos have put it on the danger list.
East Rennell, Solomon Islands
The closest site to New Zealand on the danger list is East Rennell in the Solomon Islands. This island is surrounded by a reef with an amazing amount of fish and birdlife, but it’s the inland lake that makes this place so special. The lake was once a lagoon which at some stage lost its access to the sea. Since then the species that live in the lake, or on islands on the lake have evolved so much that they’re found nowhere else in the world. The danger is from logging which threatens the animals’ habitat.
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