NEW YORK (July 3, 2017) – A WCS and University of Queensland (UQ)-led study published today urges the UNESCO World Heritage Convention to better conserve wilderness areas through designation of Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS). The study shows only 1.8 percent of the world’s wilderness is protected in NWHS. While some sites like the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Purnululu National Park in Australia both have excellent wilderness coverage, broad gaps in wilderness coverage exist across the globe.

The study identifies protected areas within these gaps including Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve in Myanmar or Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna Reserve in Bolivia. Both have good wilderness coverage and may warrant consideration for World Heritage Status.

“Globally important wilderness areas are increasingly being shown as not only strongholds for endangered biodiversity, but critical in the fight of abating climate change, regulating local climates, and supporting many of the world’s most culturally diverse but politically and economically marginalized communities” said James Allan, lead author and UQ PhD student in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Allan continued: “Despite their importance, wilderness areas are being destroyed at an alarming rate and need urgent protection. We highlight important wilderness sites that the World Heritage Convention should start to consider as Natural World Heritage Sites.”

Natural World Heritage Sites, via the formal process run by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), are globally recognized as containing some of the Earth's most valuable and most threatened natural assets.

Said senior author Dr. James Watson of UQ and the Wildlife Conservation Society: “Wilderness conservation has been largely ignored in global environmental policy. There is not just an important opportunity but an urgent need for global environmental international conventions to recognize the importance of conserving wilderness before it is too late.”

Watson continued: “The World Heritage Convention can better achieve its own objectives by increasing wilderness coverage within NWHS, which in turn will raise the profile of wilderness conservation globally, and provide wilderness areas with additional protection they need. It is a win-win situation.”

The article is “Gaps and opportunities for the World Heritage Convention to contribute to global wilderness conservation” by James Allan, Cyril Kormos, Tilman Jeager, Oscar Venter, Bastian Bertzky, Yichuan Shi, Brendan Mackey, Remco van Merm, Elena Osipova and James Watson (DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12976 ). It appears in Conservation Biology, June 2017, published by Wiley-Blackwell.