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World Heritage in the High Seas: An Idea Whose Time has Come

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The report – released by the World Heritage Centre of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – presents five sites that illustrate different ecosystems that can only be found in the depths of the ocean.

The five sites are: the Costa Rica Thermal Dome (Pacific Ocean), a unique oceanic oasis, which provides critical habitat for a thriving marine life, including many endangered species; the White Shark Café (Pacific Ocean), the only known gathering point for white sharks in the north Pacific; the Sargasso Sea (Atlantic Ocean), home to an iconic ecosystem built around a concentration of floating algae; the Lost City Hydrothermal Field (Atlantic Ocean), an 800 meter-deep area dominated by carbonate monoliths up to 60 meters high; and the Atlantis Bank, a sunken fossil island in the subtropical waters of the Indian Ocean.

Each of these sites could be recognized as having outstanding universal value, a key principle of the World Heritage Convention. Although these sites are far from shores, they are not safe from threats, whether it be climate change, deep seabed mining, navigation or plastic pollution. But for listing, adjustments to the inscription process will be necessary, since only countries can propose sites and the high seas, which cover half the planet, do not fall under the jurisdiction of any country.

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