The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) laments that 114 World Heritage sites, classified for their aesthetic or scientific value, are under threat from harmful man-made activities. Among these threatened sites are the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon National Park.

According to experts, coal mining activities put the Great Barrier Reef at risk of deterioration. On the other hand, unsustainable water use has put the Grand Canyon on the brink of obliteration.

Moreover, the researchers suggest that more than a fifth of natural World Heritage sites are threatened by destructive activities. Damages to these sites could also affect the 11 million people globally who rely on these sites for water, shelter, food, and even medicine.

Barrier reef

A scuba diver looking at a giant clam on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by Jan Derk/Wikimedia

In fact, 90 percent of these sites provide employment, supports food supply, alleviates poverty of its people and eases climate change. According to David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, overall, World Heritage Sites hold 0.5 percent of the world’s surface but do not get enough protection required.

“These areas contribute to our economies through tourism and natural resources, providing livelihoods for millions of people, while also supporting some of the planet’s most valuable ecosystems, so we need to work together now to ensure they are properly protected,” Nussbaum adds.

The WWF then strongly urges governments to prohibit destructive activities carried out on these sites. The organisation recommends employing alternatives that are sustainable and environmentally friendly to avoid further damage.

This is not the first time experts have called upon measures to save Australia’s icon. A previous study has shown that the Great Barrier Reef is bleaching, which stems from overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays.

“Bleaching is a clear signal that living corals are under physiological stress. If that stress is bad enough for long enough, the corals can die. Corals generally have a temperature limit, and the bleaching indicates they’re outside of their comfort zone,” says Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Russell Reichelt. “At this stage, there appears to be low rates of coral mortality restricted to a small number of reefs, and most of the corals affected by bleaching are those that are particularly vulnerable to this type of event such as plate and branching corals.”