World Heritage

Pyramids of Giza - A World Heritage siteWhat is World Heritage?

World Heritage Areas embody the diversity of the planet, and the achievements of its peoples. They are places of beauty and wonder; mystery and grandeur; memory and meaning. In short, 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, the Galápagos Islands and Serengeti National Park are among the world’s greatest natural treasures. All of these places are on the World Heritage List.
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. World Heritage listing also has other benefits.
But how do properties get listed in the first place? What are Australia’s World Heritage-listed properties? Where else in the world can you see World Heritage? Read on!

How do World Heritage properties get listed?

World Heritage properties can only be nominated by the national government of a country (also called a State Party) that has signed and ratified the World Heritage Convention. Australia was the seventh country to ratify the convention, in 1974. In Australia, the federal government is responsible for the nomination of World Heritage properties, with the consent of the relevant state government.

However, governments do not decide whether a property in their country is inscribed on the World Heritage List. That decision 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.

What qualities does a property need to get listed?

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. For example, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is treasured by people from Iceland to Israel, Ukraine to Uruguay, as well as by Australians!

The ten selection criteria are set by UNESCO. A property nominated for its cultural significance could, for example, represent a work of human creative genius; a significant stage in human history; or a historic event or living tradition. A property nominated for its natural values could have exceptional natural beauty; represent major stages of Earth’s history; or provide habitat for threatened species. Get the full list of selection criteria here.

What is the selection process?

The nomination, assessment and inscription of a property to the World Heritage List is a complex process involving extensive international evaluation.
  • First a government must make a list of potential properties.
  • The nomination process begins when the government selects a property from this list. Documentation supporting the property’s nomination is prepared, compiled, and sent to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre for review.
  • The World Heritage Centre sends the nomination for assessment by impartial, nongovernmental 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. The committee has the final say on whether the nominated property is to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The committee has the right to defer its decision, or ask for more information on a nominated property. The assessment process is rigorous and demanding, and not every nominated property makes it to the list. Learn more about the selection process here.

Uluru or Ayer's Rock - one of Australia's World Heritage sitesAustralia’s World Heritage

The Shark Bay World Heritage Area is one of 19 Australian properties on the World Heritage List. Some of these places are Australian icons; each represents an incredible diversity of features and values that not only represent the best of Australia’s natural and cultural heritage, but are of outstanding universal significance. In 2013 Australia’s World Heritage Areas 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)
  • 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)

Discover Australia’s World Heritage treasures here. And find out why Shark Bay World Heritage Area is so special here.

Easter Island - a World Heritage siteWorld Heritage around the planet

In 2013 there were 981 World Heritage properties in 160 countries (including Australia). Of these, 759 are listed for their cultural heritage values, 193 are listed for their natural heritage values and 29 are listed for both natural and cultural values. Some of these places are household names, such as the Acropolis, Easter Island, Machu Picchu and Victoria Falls. Other places are perhaps more surprising, including Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland (inscribed in 1979) and Japan’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome, inscribed 1996). Such World Heritage properties are not only tangible signs of human culture, but symbolic representations of human nature: of cruelty, courage, and hope for peace on Earth.

Go visit your World Heritage!

The benefits of World Heritage listing

Listing of a World Heritage property can be very beneficial for the country in which the property is located, as well as for the local community and visitors. For example, listing can
  • give the property international recognition, promoting local and national pride;.
  • attract greatly increased tourist visitation from within the country and overseas. For example, Australian icons such as Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Great Barrier Reef have featured heavily in tourism promotions;
  • provide tourism and management-related employment opportunities and income for local communities; and
  • spur improved regional planning and management, benefiting local communities.

World Heritage listing can also improve visitor interpretation and other facilities, enhancing the visitors’ experience. Feel like going somewhere special? Organise your trip to Shark Bay here.

Since States Parties to the World Heritage Convention are obliged to protect and maintain their country’s World Heritage, listing is of course also beneficial for the property! The great esteem in which a World Heritage Area is held by the local and international population can also help bring about a higher level of protection for the property.

Find out how the Shark Bay World Heritage Area is managed here.