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Four natural wonders added to UNESCO World Heritage List
Newly added to the list was Japan's Ogasawara Islands, which are home to more than 200 endangered bird species, as well as a "critically endangered" bat. Much like the Galapagos Islands, this remote archipelago has a number of unique plants and animals, some of which can only be found there. The islands are also viewed as a living laboratory where the process of evolution can be studied in a self-contained environment that mixes influences from both northeast and southeast Asia in unusual ways.
The Ningaloo Coast, located along Australia's lonely western shores, was also given the nod thanks in no small part to its outstanding biodiversity. Just off the coast is one of the world's largest near-shore coral reef systems, which stretches for miles and is home to sea turtles, whale sharks, and other exotic sealife. An intricate network of underwater caves spiderwebs across the region as well, creating a distinct ecosystem all its own, that boasts even more unusual and unique wildlife. Back on dry land, the Ningaloo Coast also provides spectacular scenery along rugged hiking trails.
Jordan's Wadi Rum received World Heritage status thanks to its blend of both nature and culture. The towering rock walls and maze-like canyons, surrounded by a breathtakingly beautiful desert, is only part of the reason this destination was recognized by UNESCO. It is also home to several distinct Bedouin tribes who have inhabited the region for thousands of years, leaving traces of their culture that date back to before the pyramids were built. There are reportedly more than 25,000 rock carvings and an additional 20,000 inscriptions, found throughout the area, some of which show the earliest examples of what would eventually evolve into the earliest alphabet.
The fourth location added to the list is the Lake System in Kenya. Consisting of three interconnected bodies of water, all located inside the Great Rift Valley, the region is home to one of the most biologically diverse avian populations in the world. UNESCO notes that there are no less than 13 species of threatened birds that live in the Lake System, some of which exclusively breed and nest there. The region also plays host to plenty of other wildlife as well, including giraffes, lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, and black rhinos.
Any one of these locations would make an amazing destination for adventurous travelers. These are fragile ecosystems however, so if you do go, be sure it is with a reputable guide service that believes in sustainable travel and ecotourism. After all, these places have been designated as World Heritage sites for a reason, and UNESCO isn't the only one that wants to see them stick around for future travelers to enjoy as well.
[Photo credit: Alessandro Balsamo/UNESCO]