Major Botanical Sites in the Tropics Awarded World Heritage Status
Coral Gables, FL, July 24, 2008—The World Heritage Committee, meeting for its 32nd session in Canada this week, finished inscribing new sites on UNESCO‘s World Heritage List on July 8 with the addition of 19 cultural sites and eight natural sites to the List. This year some of the world‘s most important botanical sites were given World Heritage status. This status places them in an elite roster of places that define the cumulative natural and cultural heritage of our planet, irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application, World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.
Listed as a mixed natural and cultural site are the Mijikenda Kaya Forests (Kenya) consisting of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200 km along the coast containing the remains of numerous fortified villages, known as kayas, of the Mijikenda people. The kayas, created as of the 16th century but abandoned by the 1940s, are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are revered as sacred sites and, as such, are maintained by councils of elders. The site is inscribed as bearing unique testimony to a cultural tradition and for its direct link to a living tradition. Quentin Luke, FTBG‘s African Field Officer is a world authority on the kaya forests and was part of a National Museums of Kenya team to place these forests under legal protection as National Monuments. "These tiny patches of forest are islands in an agricultural landscape, but at last they have been given world recognition as diverse plant refugia and, exceptionally, an example of a local culture that believes in protecting forests," he remarks. For more information on the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests, go to http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1231/.
Mike Maunder, Fairchild‘s Executive Director describes the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen) "as one of the world‘s great botanical treasures,a remote and fascinating archipelago that is home to some of the rarest species on earth", in the northwest Indian Ocean near the Gulf of Aden, is 250 km long and comprises four islands and two rocky islets which appear as a prolongation of the Horn of Africa. The site is of universal importance because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna: 37% of Socotra‘s 825 plant species, 90% of its reptile species and 95% of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world. The site also supports globally significant populations of land and sea birds (192 bird species, 44 of which breed on the islands while 85 are regular migrants), including a number of threatened species. The marine life of Socotra is also very diverse, with 253 species of reef-building corals, 730 species of coastal fish and 300 species of crab, lobster and shrimp.
The Kuk Early Agricultural Site (Papua New Guinea) is one of the heartlands for tropical agriculture. Consisting of 116 ha of swamps in the southern highlands of New Guinea 1,500 metres above sea-level, archaeological excavation has revealed the landscape to have been farmed continuously for 7,000, and possibly for 10,000 years. It contains well-preserved archaeological remains demonstrating the technological leap which transformed plant exploitation to agriculture around 6,500 years ago. It is an excellent example of transformation of agricultural practices over time, from cultivation mounds to draining the wetlands through the digging of ditches with wooden tools. Kuk is one of the few places in the world where archaeological evidence suggests independent agricultural development and changes in agricultural practice over such a long period of time.
The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (Mexico) The 56,259 ha biosphere lies within rugged forested mountains about 100 km northwest of Mexico City. Every autumn, millions, perhaps a billion, butterflies from wide areas of North America return to the site and cluster on small areas of the forest reserve, coloring its trees orange and literally bending their branches under their collective weight. In the spring, these butterflies begin an 8 month migration that takes them all the way to Eastern Canada and back, during which time four successive generations are born and die. How they find their way back to their overwintering site from the gardens and milkweed patches of North America remains a mystery.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is dedicated to exploring, explaining and conserving the world of tropical plants. It is one of the premier conservation and education-based gardens in the world and a recognized international leader in both Florida and international conservation. Currently Fairchild has field programs in over 20 countries including support to protected areas in Madagascar and Africa, and botanic garden development and renovation projects in South and Central America, the Caribbean and Middle East. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden houses the National Palm Collection as recognized by the American Public Gardens Association (APGA), has the world‘s greatest living collection of palms and cycads; an education program reaching more than 30,000 school children per year; hosts popular events like the International Mango and Orchid Festivals, the Ramble, concerts, affiliated plant society shows and sales and more; and, is a not-for-profit organization relying on the support of its 40,000 members and benefactors. We host major art events such as Botero, Lichtenstein and Chihuly at Fairchild this year and Chihuly at Fairchild in 2005 and 2006. Fairchild is located at 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables (Miami), Florida 33156. Admission is $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for Children 6-17 and free to children 5 and under and Fairchild members. For more information, please visit www.fairchildgarden.org.