July 15, 2005

Meteor crater, fjords among new U.N. heritage sites

By Andrew Quinn

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The world's oldest and largest
meteorite crater, part of Japan's northernmost island and two
Norwegian fjords are among seven sites added to the U.N. World
Heritage list this week.

The United Nations Environmental, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage committee, meeting in
South Africa's port city of Durban, also extended two existing
sites at India's Valley of Flowers National Park and Scotland's
remote St Kilda archipelago.

The addition of the new sites brings UNESCO's World
Heritage list to 160 natural sites and 24 mixed natural and
cultural sites around the globe, the committee said in a

South Africa's Vredefort Dome crater, about 120 km
southwest of Johannesburg, was described as both the largest
and oldest meteorite crater on earth dating back 2,023 million

"It provides critical evidence of the earth's geological
history and is crucial to our understanding of the evolution of
the planet," the UNESCO committee said.

Japan's Shiretoko Peninsula in northeast Hokkaido was named
as "an outstanding example of the interaction of marine and
terrestrial ecosystems" and home to a number of threatened
species of sea and migratory birds.

In Europe, the west Norwegian fjords Geirangerfjord and
Naeroyfjord, northeast of Bergen, joined the list as two of the
most scenically beautiful fjord landscapes in the world with
steep crystalline rock walls, numerous waterfalls and glaciers.

Egypt's Wadi Al-Hitan Whale Valley contains fossil remains
of some of the earliest whales, UNESCO said.

"These fossils represent one of the major stories of
evolution: the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal
from a previous life as a land-based animal," it said.

The UNESCO committee also selected a stretch of coastal
areas in northeastern Mexico's Gulf of California which is
especially rich in both plant and sea life and another coastal
area in Panama's Coiba National Park, described as a
particularly fertile region for the evolution of new species.

Thailand's Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, a
tropical forest ecosystem seen as key to the survival of a
number of endangered mammal, bird and reptile species, was also
named to the heritage list.

The World Heritage committee added India's Valley of
Flowers National Park in the high western Himalayas to a site
already established at nearby Nanda Devi National Park, and
added a cultural heritage designation to Scotland's St Kilda
site in the Outer Hebrides to reflect the area's long history
of human habitation.

The UNESCO committee will meet until Sunday and is expected
to consider adding a number of new cultural sites to the list
as well as steps to encourage conservation of sites deemed in