The majestic Taj Mahal, the ancient pyramids of Egypt, the imposing Acropolis of Athens -- these and other World Heritage properties are the most outstanding examples of humanity's diverse cultural achievements. The vast African plains of the Serengeti, the breathtaking Grand Canyon, the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls -- these are among the greatest natural treasures on Earth. All of these places are World Heritage properties.
Moai at Easter Island, Taj Mahal and Macchu Pichu (Photography by Steve Johnson)
A brief history of World Heritage
(Photography by Steve Johnson)
Worldwide concern over the fate of the Earth's cultural and natural heritage has grown over recent decades, and continues to grow. It is to address these concerns, and to provide a framework for the protection of this heritage, that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) established the Convention for the Protection of the World's Cultural and Natural Heritage, or World Heritage Convention, as it is more commonly known.
UNESCO is no stranger to projects involving the restoration and protection of heritage sites of global significance, having played a role in protecting several sites prior to the introduction of the Convention. The massive temple structure of Abu Simbel, in Egypt, for example, was saved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser by a massive UNESCO restoration project in 1964. Today, the same imposing temple is listed on the World Heritage List.
The World Heritage Convention was adopted during the 17th Session of UNESCO during its General Conference in 1972 and came into force in December 1975. Australia became the seventh country to ratify the Convention, in 1974. Today it is the world's most signed environmental convention.
The World Heritage List
Egypt's Pyramids and Sphinx
(Photography by Steve Johnson)
The World Heritage List reads like a who's who of the Earth's greatest cultural and natural treasures. It is, in a sense, the modern day equivalent of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Unlike the Seven Wonders, of which only the pyramids remain, the World Heritage Convention aims to ensure that World Heritage properties are conserved for all people for all time. It is the purpose of the Convention to promote the protection, and celebration, of the Earth's irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage.
As of January 2015 the World Heritage List comprised 1007 properties in 161 countries. Of these, 779 are listed for their cultural heritage values, 197 are listed for their natural heritage values and 31 are listed for both natural and cultural values.
Under the Convention, the World Heritage Committee can inscribe existing World Heritage properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action. Armed conflict and war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization and unchecked tourist development are among the factors which pose major problems to World Heritage sites.
There are currently 46 World Heritage properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The process of listing
Potential World Heritage Sites are nominated by the national government of the member country. The Australian Federal Government has undertaken to nominate new properties only with the consent of the relevant State Government. When nominations are received at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Bureau, rigorous assessment of the nominated property is conducted in collaboration with international non-government organisations such as the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Only sites deemed to be of outstanding universal value and which satisfy at least one of four natural and/or six cultural and/or one cultural landscape criteria for selection are accepted onto the World Heritage List.
Following inscription on the World Heritage List, the ownership of the property remains unchanged. Listing of a site does not imply international administration or management. The management of a World Heritage Site is the sole responsibility of the member nation. Most of Australia's World Heritage properties are managed by State Government agencies, often with Federal Government assistance.
Benefits of World Heritage listing
The inscription of a property on the World Heritage List gives the property an international recognition which promotes local and national pride, and engenders feelings of national responsibility to protect the area. Listing also promotes opportunities for greatly increased tourist visitation and accompanying increases in employment and revenue generation. The provision of facilities, such as Visitor Centres, enhances the visitor's experience. Local communities also benefit from improvements in the planning and management of the property.
Australia's World Heritage Areas
As of January 2015, Australia has 19 properties listed on the World Heritage List, each representing a considerable diversity of features which ensure their place among those regions of the world which are of outstanding universal significance. They are (in order of listing):
So how does the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area compare?
Spectacular dolerite peaks are a feature of the WHA
The Tasmanian Wilderness WHA is one of only 23 World Heritage properties that satisfy all natural criteria for selection and one of only 31 that satisfies both natural and cultural criteria. At the time of listing, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area satisfied seven of a possible ten criteria - more than any other World Heritage Site. To date, only one other World Heritage Site, Mt Taishan in China, listed in 1987 has satisfied as many criteria for inclusion on the World Heritage List (6 cultural and 1 natural).
The unique wildlife, ancient plants, stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage of the Tasmanian wilderness all contributed to its successful nomination for World Heritage listing. Clearly, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is one of the greatest regions of cultural and natural heritage on Earth.
Discover these natural and cultural values now.