UNESCO Considers Recognizing Undersea Heritage Sites

 Lost City Hydrothermal Field. Image credit: NOAA
 Lost City Hydrothermal Field. Image credit: NOAA /  Lost City Hydrothermal Field. Image credit: NOAA

From Yosemite National Park to the Taj Mahal, every UNESCO World Heritage Site shares something in common: They all fall under a national jurisdiction. This excludes noteworthy areas in the deep sea and open ocean from being considered for the prestigious honor. Now, a new report from UNESCO entertains the possibility of changing that with the proposal of five underwater sites.

In the report, titled World Heritage in the High Seas: An Idea Whose Time has Come, locations from three of the Earth’s oceans are discussed. The Costa Rica Thermal Dome, a hotbed for biodiversity, and the White Shark Cafe, one of the only known meeting points for great whites, represent the Pacific. From the Atlantic ocean, the report mentions the Lost City Hydrothermal Field of towering limestone vents and the seaweed-rich Sargasso Sea. The Atlantis Bank, the sole candidate from the Indian Ocean, is notable for containing the fossilized remains of an 11 million-year-old beach. According to UNESCO, plastic pollution, over-fishing, and seabed drilling are all factors that put these sites at risk.

To become a World Heritage Site, an area must first be submitted for approval by the country that hosts it. Under these current rules, two-thirds of the world's oceans are automatically disqualified. The report suggests tweaking such technicalities to open up the process to more places worth protecting.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.