Four years of World Heritage wins and how you, our supporters, helped us to get there.
On October 20, a small developing country made strides in the right direction. The Prime Minister of Belize brought legislation to the table that will see oil exploration and exploitation completely put to a stop in Belizean waters, which got us thinking about all the incredible milestones you have helped us to achieve throughout the campaign to #SaveOurHeritage.
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
It all began back in 2013 when a small and relatively unheard of oil company took their exploration practices into the depths of Virunga National Park, a World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga is home to a population of mountain gorillas and boasts some of the most spectacular mountain landscapes in Africa. It’s a vital resource to the local people and brings an estimated US$48.9million to their economy. On June 11 2013, after hundreds of thousands of you drew the line and demanded that British company Soco respect the value of the World Heritage site, they finally withdrew from the park.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most iconic and picturesque ocean scenes in the world, with over 400 different types of coral making up the 438,000 square kilometres of World Heritage site. The government in Australia were dumping waste from dredge spoil in waters surrounding the reef. On the November 12 2015, after 500,000 of you from across 177 countries stepped in and raised your concerns, the government passed a bill that banned dredge dumping.
The Belize Barrier Reef
On April 6 2016 we called on you to tell the Prime Minister of Belize that you didn’t want to see the largest reef in the northern hemisphere put at risk due to oil exploration. Within six months, the government had put a temporary halt to seismic testing within reach of the World Heritage site — but this simply wasn’t enough. More and more of you raised your voices until, exactly a year after the seismic halt, the government announced that they were putting a stop to exploration within all Belizean waters. With endangered turtles and vulnerable sharks calling the reef home, Belize has taken a huge step toward protecting its most valuable asset.
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
June 1 2016 turned focus to the largest protected area in Africa, Selous Game Reserve. Home to elephants, African wild dogs, rhinos, hippos and many more, this World Heritage site is a treasure for wildlife. Oil concessions overlapping the majority of the park, as well as threats such as poaching, have left Selous languishing on the List of World Heritage In Danger. On November 4 2017 after your intervention, the government announced that they were demanding an imminent crack down on the poaching crisis in the area. Just over six months later in June, Tanzania began its year of zero poaching.
Doñana National Park,Spain
This World Heritage site is home to a huge six million migratory birds as well as a recovering population of Iberian lynx. Sadly, these species were facing threats from dredging of the river that lines the easterly side of the National Park. We asked you to get crafty and create a personalised origami bird that we could migrate to Spain in a show of support for the World Heritage site. Thousands of you sent us your beautiful creations, which on November 24 2016 we showcased outside the Spanish parliament building. WWF was promised its first meeting with the Environmental Committee in Spain and later, on December 2 2016, the river dredging plans were indefinitely cancelled.
The Vaquita — Gulf of California, Mexico
Leonardo DiCaprio joined our desperate call in May this year to protect the last remaining vaquita in the Mexican World Heritage site of the Gulf of California. With only an estimated 30 of the world’s rarest marine mammals left in the world, this little porpoise was falling foul of harmful fishing practices called gillnets. You rallied into action so astonishingly quickly, that by June 1 the Mexican government had extended a ban on gillnets and by June 30 2017, they had been permanently banned from Mexican waters.
Although there is still a long way to go if we are to see the world’s most precious places protected from harmful activities, we’ve come quite a distance over the years with your help.
Lindsay Smith is Campaigns Executive at WWF-UK.