Seawalls Seem Inevitable

The seawall in front of Aminoko, a village near Katoku. Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

This Pristine Beach Is One of Japan’s Last. Soon It Will Be Filled With Concrete.

In rural Japan, the unstoppable forces of nature meet the immovable determination of the construction state. Can this village survive?

Katoku beach and its village are wrestling with how to cope with increasingly damaging storms. Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

KATOKU, Japan — Standing on its mountain-fringed beach, there is no hint that the Japanese village of Katoku even exists. Its handful of houses hide behind a dune covered with morning glories and pandanus trees, the chitter of cicadas interrupted only by the cadence of waves and the call of an azure-winged jay.

In July, the beach became part of a new UNESCO World Heritage Site, a preserve of verdant peaks and mangrove forests in far southwestern Japan that is home to almost a dozen endangered species. Continue reading

Bad News for a Few European World Heritage Sites

Protections have been weakened for Russian natural areas like the Western Caucasus. © WWF-Russia / Sergey Trepet

Last time we mentioned UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it wasn’t good news either, when many Sites were listed as “in danger.” The places newly at risk, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), are often in the way of logging enterprises, often by the very governments who should be protecting the internationally recognized areas.  From the WWF:

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee today expressed concern over three sites facing severe pressures from harmful industrial activities, but failed to take bold action to protect them.

At the meeting, WWF objected to a sharp logging increase in the Polish portion of Bialowieza Forest World Heritage site, which also spans part of Belarus. The forest is one of Europe’s oldest, and is home to the most wild European bison, as well as lynxes and wolves. The government of Poland has argued that logging is necessary in order to combat a bark beetle infestation, a claim Polish scientists reject.

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WWF Reports Half of World Heritage Sites Put at Risk by Development

Ambatotsondrona cliffs, in the Marojejy National Park of Madagascar. This park is one of several included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site named Rainforests of the Atsinanana, which has been declared In Danger. Photo by Jeff Gibbs via WikiMedia Commons

We deeply care about UNESCO World Heritage Sites anywhere on the globe, and believe they can be a great conservation tool, so reading that the World Wildlife Fund thinks almost three times more of the Sites are threatened than UNESCO lists as “In Danger” is worrisome, to say the least. Fiona Harvey reports for the Guardian:

Close to half of the sites around the world designated for special protection as areas of outstanding importance for nature are now being threatened by industrial development, a new survey has shown.

The sites, which include Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon in the US, and China’s giant panda sanctuaries in Szechuan, are all supposed to be protected under the United Nations’ designated world heritage status. But encroachments from industries, including fossil fuel exploration and illegal logging, are threatening to destroy the valuable habitats, the conservation charity WWF said on Wednesday.

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Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar Temple – Tamil Nadu

Brihadeeswarar Temple in Tamil Nadu is one of the greatest artistic accomplishments of the Late Chola period. At 216 feet in height, the shrine of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest and tallest in India. This was an imperial monument to Chola power, built without using bricks, lime mortar or clay. The stones are placed one above the other and are held in place due to sheer weight. Continue reading