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Climate change is increasingly damaging the UN’s most treasured heritage sites, a leading conservation agency warned Wednesday, reporting that Great Barrier Reef of Australia and dozens of other natural wonders face serious threats.

Climate change that has led to shrinking glaciers, increased fires, floods and droughts, and bleaching of coral reefs are among the problems faced by 83 of the 252 UNESCO-listed World Heritage sites , the cultural agency of the UN.

Sixteen World Heritage sites have deteriorated since the last World Heritage Outlook was published three years ago, while only eight improved, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature, made up of governments and civil society groups, and advises UNESCO on natural hazards to these sites.

Great Barrier Reef
In this file photo from December 1999, tourists snorkel around Upolu Cay on the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns off the northeast coast of Australia. Bleaching has affected all three regions of the world’s largest coral reef system and is more widespread than ever, scientists from James Cook University in the state of Queensland said in April 2020. (AP)

“Natural World Heritage sites are among the most precious places in the world and we must protect them for future generations,” said IUCN Director General Bruno Oberle. “Climate change is wreaking (havoc) on natural World Heritage, from shrinking glaciers to bleaching corals and increasingly frequent and severe fires and droughts.”

The report says that the Great Barrier Reef, where ocean warming, acidification and extreme weather have added to the decline of corals and declining populations of marine species, was one of four sites in Australia under a “very high” threat.

Researchers check corals for signs of spawning.
Researchers check corals for signs of spawning. (Great Barrier Reef Foundation)

Protected area islands in the Gulf of California in Mexico have also entered the “critical” category on the list. Spain’s Garajonay National Park, Olympic National Park in the United States and Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve are among those under “very high” threat, according to the new report.

He said that while 63 percent of heritage sites are classified as “good” or “good with some concerns”, 30 percent are of “significant concern” and 7 percent are in “critical” form.

Unlike the previous two IUCN reports, climate change has overshadowed “invasive alien species”, such as when foreign rodents, fish or plants are transplanted, accidentally or not, into new environments, as the most potent threat against those sites.

Human activities such as tourism, hunting and fishing, and livestock grazing have also had an impact.

Photos of the Great Barrier Reef affected by mass bleaching in 2016
A section of the Great Barrier Reef affected by mass bleaching in 2016 (Supplied)

– Reported with Associated Press

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