The Blue and John Crow Mountains has become Jamaica’s first World Heritage site today, following advice from IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, responsible for evaluating the site’s natural values. Extensions of South Africa’s Cape Floral Region Protected Areas and Viet Nam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park were also approved by the World Heritage Committee, as recommended by IUCN.
The announcements were made at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting taking place in Bonn, Germany.
Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains has been inscribed as a “mixed” site, recognising the complex interplay between the area’s natural and cultural values. The local Maroon communities share a strong identity with the area and are actively engaged in its management.
“The Blue and John Crow Mountains in Jamaica is a jewel of the Caribbean displaying exceptionally pristine nature,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “We are delighted that a site so valuable in the eyes of the local communities has been recognised for its importance to the whole humanity. This inscription also helps to build a World Heritage list which can represent the world’s regions in a more balanced way.”
Combining Jamaica’s highest peak with a contrasting limestone plateau, the site boasts the greatest diversity of ecosystems and habitats on the island, which are also among the most intact in the Caribbean region. It overlaps with one of the world’s 78 most irreplaceable areas for the conservation of amphibian, bird and mammal species. Half of the flowering plants growing at 900 to 1000 metres in the John Crow plateau cannot be found anywhere else in the world, while unique montane tropical forests hang on the steep slopes and rugged landscape of the Blue Mountains peaking at 2,250 metre. The site also hosts globally significant populations of bird species.
Viet Nam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, a World Heritage site originally inscribed for its geological values in 2003, has been extended and now includes protection for ecological and biodiversity values. Located in the Annamite ecoregion hotspot, the extended area is home to globally threatened species, including large mammals such as the Clouded Leopard, the Large-antlered Muntjac and the critically endangered Saola. The park is of particular importance for the conservation of endangered primates, such as the Red-shanked Douc Langur and the Southern White-cheeked Gibbon.
Several discoveries were made within Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park since its inscription, including the Son Doong cave – which is the world’s largest cave by volume – as well as new species of plants and animals, such as cave scorpions, fish, lizards, snakes and turtles. The number of amphibians and reptiles recorded in the site increased from 96 in 2000 to 137 in 2006. Many more species are likely to be discovered in the area.
The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas in South Africa has been extended to double its size, from 553,000 to 1,094,741 hectares. Inscribed in 2004, it is one of the most spectacular places for plants in the world in terms of diversity, density and uniqueness. While the 13 protected areas that make up the site represent less than 0.5% of Africa’s landmass, together they host 20% of the continent’s flora. About 70% of the 9,000 plant species are endemic to the area. The extension increases the number of vegetation types under World Heritage protection and allows better connectivity between all the site’s components.