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World's Most Endangered Sites

World's most endangered sites: Jerusalem

UNESCO/Varda Polak-Sahm

There’s an aquatic ecosystem so threatened it was added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2010—for the second time. But this site isn’t in a Third World or war-torn country. It’s the Florida Everglades.

Every summer, UNESCO evaluates the status of its World Heritage sites, and no country is immune from scrutiny when it comes to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The sites reflect a concern about both cultural and environmental heritage. They include everything from tropical wetlands to ninth-century minarets to royal African tombs. We’ve chosen to emphasize sites recently added to the list.

Determining the status of each site’s “outstanding universal value” follows a strict methodology. UNESCO works with experts at the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to monitor the sites’ conditions. These organizations in turn make recommendations to UNESCO based on extensive visits and studies. The few that have serious threats are dealt a set of corrective measures and added to the list.

“Legal status, mining projects, and building roads are several such cases that could be deemed to have impact on the outstanding value and authenticity of the site,” says Kishore Rao, director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris. In June 2011, for instance, Sumatra’s Tropical Rainforest was added to the danger list because of poaching and plans to build roads through the vulnerable habitat.

Many countries view danger-listing as a blow to tourism, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The U.S. government actually requested to have the Everglades listed in 2010 because its delicate ecosystem was still struggling to recover from Hurricane Andrew damage. “The process of putting sites on the Danger List is meant to draw attention to the fact that there’s a threat, but most important, to mobilize national and international support to help the country and site deal with that threat,” says Rao.

And there are comeback stories. Twenty-three sites, including the Galápagos, Angkor Wat, and Timbuktu, were once on the Danger List and dropped after improvements. As bureaucratic as it can seem, UNESCO’s process encourages us to consider the value of both man-made and natural wonders, the bond between them, and our role as travelers in their upkeep. —Adam H. Graham

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