World Heritage Areas are places of beauty and wonder, mystery and grandeur, memory and meaning. They represent the best Earth has to offer. The pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal are some of the most outstanding examples of humanity’s cultural achievements. The Great Barrier Reef, Galápagos Islands and Serengeti National Park are among the world’s greatest natural treasures.
In 1972, worldwide concern over the potential destruction of the Earth’s cultural and natural heritage led the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to establish an international treaty called the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. More commonly known as the World Heritage Convention it aims to identify, celebrate and protect the Earth’s irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage, and to ensure it is conserved for all people for all time.
The inscription of a place or property on the World Heritage List is a powerful tool for its protection by:
- giving international recognition, promoting local and national pride
- attracting increased tourist visitation from within the country and overseas
- providing tourism and management-related employment opportunities and income for local communities
- leading to improved regional planning and management of benefit local communities
- improving visitor interpretation and other facilities to enhance visitor experiences.
World Heritage properties can only be nominated by the national government of a country, called a State Party, that has signed and ratified the World Heritage Convention. The decision to inscribe a property is made by the World Heritage Committee, a group of elected representatives of 21 of the States Parties based at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris. To be included on the World Heritage List properties must:
- be of outstanding universal value; and
- meet at least one of ten selection criteria.
‘Universal value’ is the key to the meaning of World Heritage. It means that the importance of World Heritage properties transcend national boundaries. Their qualities are extraordinary so that no matter which country they are found in, and who experiences them, they evoke a sense of wonder and admiration.
Nomination, assessment and inscription of a property to the World Heritage List involves extensive international evaluation after a government has made a list of potential properties.
- The nomination process begins when the government selects a property from this list and sends documentation supporting the property’s nomination to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre for review.
- The World Heritage Centre has the nomination assessed by impartial, non-governmental advisory bodies and relevant scientific and technical experts. These include the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
- The World Heritage Committee meets once a year to consider the advisory bodies’ recommendations and determines whether the nominated property will be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
The committee may defer its decision or ask for more information about a nominated property. Not every nominated property makes it to the list.
The Shark Bay World Heritage Area is one of 19 Australian properties on the World Heritage List. Each represents an incredible diversity of features and values that represent the best of Australia’s natural and cultural heritage and are of outstanding universal significance. Australia’s World Heritage properties are:
- Great Barrier Reef inscribed 1981 for its natural values
- Kakadu National Park inscribed 1981 for its natural and cultural values
- Willandra Lakes Region inscribed 1981 for its natural and cultural values
- Lord Howe Island Group inscribed 1982 for their natural values
- Tasmanian Wilderness inscribed 1982 for its natural and cultural values
- Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves inscribed 1986 for their natural values
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park inscribed 1987 for its natural and cultural values
- Wet Tropics of Queensland inscribed 1988 for their natural values
- Shark Bay inscribed 1991 for its natural values
- Fraser Island inscribed 1992 for its natural values
- Australian Fossil Mammal Sites Riversleigh, Naracoorte inscribed 1994 for their natural values
- Heard and McDonald Islands inscribed 1997 for their natural values
- Macquarie Island inscribed 1997 for its natural values
- Blue Mountains inscribed 2000 for their natural values
- Purnululu National Park inscribed 2003 for its natural values
- Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens inscribed 2004 for its cultural values
- Sydney Opera House inscribed 2007 for its cultural values
- Australian Convict Sites inscribed 2010 for cultural values
- Ningaloo Reef inscribed 2011 for its natural values