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Protect world heritage sites to conserve biodiversity: UN

GS1/GS3 Paper 

 Syllabus: Heritage sites, Environment Conservation


Source: DTE

 Context: UNESCO World Heritage sites, home to a significant portion of global biodiversity, including iconic species like elephants, tigers, and pandas, are under threat from climate change and human activities.

  • The sites make up only 1% of Earth’s surface but play a critical role in preserving biodiversity and addressing climate disruption


What are World Heritage sites?

World Heritage sites are landmarks or areas of cultural, historical, scientific, or natural significance that are recognized and designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). These sites are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity, and their preservation is of global importance.


There are two main types of World Heritage sites:

  • Cultural Heritage Sites: These include historical buildings, cities, monuments, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes that hold cultural and historical significance.
    • Examples include the Pyramids of Egypt, the Historic Centre of Rome, and the Great Wall of China.
  • Natural Heritage Sites: These encompass natural areas, ecosystems, and geological formations that are of exceptional natural beauty or scientific importance.
    • Examples include the Galápagos Islands, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and Yellowstone National Park in the United States.


Significance of World Heritage sites: They are protected and preserved to ensure that they are passed down to future generations.


Protecting World Heritage sites will lead to Biodiversity Conservation:

Importance for Biodiversity Conservation Examples
1. High Biodiversity Richness: World Heritage sites are home to a significant portion of the world’s biodiversity, including numerous plant and animal species. Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to diverse wildlife, including mountain gorillas and endangered African elephants.
2. Habitat for Endangered Species: Many critically endangered species find refuge in these sites. Kaziranga National Park, India, is a sanctuary for the one-horned rhinoceros, tigers, and various bird species.
3. Protection from Anthropogenic Threats: These sites provide a degree of protection from human activities such as habitat destruction, poaching, and overexploitation. Great Barrier Reef, Australia, offers shelter to coral reefs and marine species, shielding them from direct human disturbances.
4. Climate Change Resilience: Preserving biodiversity in these areas contributes to global climate resilience as diverse ecosystems are more adaptable to climate change. Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay, France, showcase intertidal ecosystems that adapt to sea-level rise.
5. Scientific Study: These sites offer unique opportunities for scientific research and the study of diverse ecosystems. Yellowstone National Park, USA, serves as a living laboratory for studying geothermal features and wildlife behaviour.
6. Cultural and Natural Harmony: Cultural World Heritage sites often coexist with biodiversity-rich areas, highlighting the harmonious relationship between humans and nature. Machu Picchu, Peru, combines cultural heritage with stunning natural surroundings, fostering a strong bond with the environment.
7. Conservation Education: These sites promote awareness and education about biodiversity and conservation, helping people connect with nature. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, attract scientists and tourists interested in understanding and protecting unique species.
8. Sustainable Livelihoods: Local communities often rely on these sites for sustainable livelihoods linked to ecotourism and traditional practices. Mount Athos, Greece, sustains monastic communities that practice sustainable agriculture and forestry.


What are geo-heritage sites and geo-relics?

Geo-heritage sites are special areas displaying geological features like rock formations, fossils, and landscapes, reflecting Earth’s history. They’re preserved for scientific, educational, and cultural significance.

Geo-relics are unique geological features or specimens prized for rarity, scientific value, or historical meaning.

    • Examples: Siwalik Fossil Park in Himachal Pradesh, Deccan Traps, Lonar Lake in Maharashtra, fossil-rich sedimentary rock formations of Jaisalmer

Recently, the Ministry of Mines has notified Geo-Heritage Sites and Geo-relics (Preservation and Maintenance) Bill that is aimed at providing for the declaration, preservation, protection and maintenance of geo-heritage sites and geo-relics of national importance, for geological studies, education, research and awareness purposes.



The UN calls for the nomination of more biodiversity-rich areas as World Heritage sites and emphasizes the importance of these sites in national biodiversity strategies. Additionally, site managers are being trained in climate change adaptation strategies, with plans for all sites to have climate adaptation plans by 2029.


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