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Everglades NPS // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Everglades NPS // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

15 Endangered UNESCO Sites

Everglades NPS // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Everglades NPS // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Formed in 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is known as the “intellectual” agency of the United Nations, a specialized sector that was founded on the belief that “peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.” Among the organization’s many projects is the World Heritage, a committee that has spent the past 40 years deeming certain locations around the world worthy of preservation.

Since inscribing its first sites in 1978, the organization has named a total of 1031 World Heritage Sites, from ancient cities in Iraq to the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, 48 of these sites are now considered endangered for reasons ranging from erosion to tourism. Here are just 15 of UNESCO’s endangered sites, and what the organization is doing to protect the their history.

1. EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK // HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA

South Florida’s subtropical Everglades National Park is America’s only endangered UNESCO site. According to UNESCO, the Everglades “contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie, and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America.” It’s a sanctuary for birds and home to over 20 rare, endangered, and threatened animal species, including alligators, crocodiles, manatees, and the Florida panther. From 1993 to 2007, the biosphere reserve was on the endangered list, then enjoyed three years of non-endangerment before it landed back on the list in 2010. During the past 50 years, the Everglades has lost half of its original size due to residential development, the growth of the sugar industry (sugarcane is grown in the region), and flooding. As a result, the Everglades has lost 90 percent of its bird population. In an effort to help, the state of Florida purchased land in the Everglades which was being used for sugarcane cultivation and to store water, and is in the midst of completing a project to build a bridge to divert traffic away from the marshes.

2. BIRTHPLACE OF JESUS // BETHLEHEM, PALESTINE

Musa Al-Shaer /AFP/Getty Images

Just outside of Jerusalem, what’s been identified as the birthplace of Jesus became a designated UNESCO site in 2012, and was placed on the endangered list the same year. The Church of the Nativity, first built in 339 A.D. and then restored after a fire in the mid-6th century, is the oldest Christian church still in daily use. The church’s roof needs restoring, and the increase in vehicular traffic and industry to the area have caused pollution, which has impacted both the church and other buildings along what is known as the Pilgrimage Route. In 2013, a plan to restore the church and better manage its surrounding area was put into effect; in 2014, the church saw its first repairs in over 500 years.

3. RAINFOREST OF THE ATSINANANA // MADAGASCAR

Fun fact: Madagascar broke off from Africa 60 million years ago, and it’s home to the only non-zoo lemur population in the world. Atsinanana, in the eastern region of the country, hosts six national parks, which are important to the island’s ecosystems. In 2007, the rainforest was inscribed on UNESCO’s list, and in 2010 it was added as endangered. The rainforest contains a lot of biodiversity: 12,000 endemic plant species, all five families of Malagasy primates, the Madagascar climbing frog, and fossas. The problem this rainforest, and many other rainforests in the world, are facing is illegal logging. In 2009, about 52,000 tons of wood from about 100,000 trees were cut. UNESCO is trying to work with logging companies to decrease the amount of rainforest destruction.

4. MARITIME MERCANTILE CITY // LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND

By Arthurv - English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

You might think that this Liverpool port city was designated a UNESCO site in 2004 because the Beatles are from the town, but that’s just a coincidence. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Liverpool was a major trading center and aided the growth of the British Empire. It became a port for the import/export of slaves, emigrants, and non-human cargo. Six locations comprise the city: The Pier Head, with three buildings; The Albert Dock, including warehouses and offices; The Stanley Dock; the Duke Street Conservation Area; The Cultural Quarter, with its statues and civic buildings; and the Commercial Quarter, including Liverpool Town Hall. Liverpool Waters, a proposed construction project, is the main concern here, as UNESCO wants any new construction to “complement the historic Pier Head buildings.” Because of the new construction threat, in 2012 the port landed on the endangered list.

5. TIMBUKTU // MALI

Built in the 5th century, Timbuktu became an intellectual region for the spread of Islam throughout West Africa in the 1400s and 1500s. Three mosques and 16 mausoleums comprise the site, which is located near the gateway to the Sahara, which made it a prime location for the trading of gold and salt. Because the buildings are so antiquated, they require careful maintenance, and there’s a constant threat of urbanization. From 1990 to 2005, it was on the endangered list but was removed when the architecture was fixed. However in 2012, an Islamic terrorist group associated with Al-Qaeda destroyed the entombed grave of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar, saying they considered idolatry a sin. After the attacks, UNESCO established a fund to restore the tomb and to maintain the integrity of the historic site.

6. BELIZE BARRIER REEF RESERVE SYSTEM // BELIZE

Laughing Bird Caye / Photo by Victoria Reay/Flickr

Comprised of seven protected areas, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System—the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere—is home to more than 500 kinds of fish, 178 types of terrestrial plants, and 350 species of mollusks, along with turtles, jaguars, and threatened birds. The reef showed up on the endangered list in 2009 because of “management challenges,” over-harvesting of marine life, coastal development, tourism, and oil and gas exploitation. Plans are in the works to tighten up fishing regulations and, with the Environmental Impact Assessment, there hopefully will be an overall increase in sustainability in the region.

7. MOUNT NIMBIA STRICT NATURE RESERVE // GUINEA AND CÔTE D'IVOIRE, WEST AFRICA

With an altitude of 1752 meters, the thick forests of Mount Nimbia rise above the savannahs and pastures of the Gulf of Guinea. More than 317 vertebrate species, including 107 mammals, and 2500 invertebrate species live in the reserve—many of them endemic. Mount Nimbia is home to the endangered viviparous toads, West African lions, and adorable pygmy hippos. Though the area is not open to visitors, poachers trespass and stake their claim on many of the animals, and the need for farmland has led to fires to clear the forests. Even though the area’s been designated as protected since 1943, in 1992 UNESCO named it an endangered site.

8. GARAMBA NATIONAL PARK // DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has five sites on the endangered list, including Garamba National Park. From 1984 to 1992 it was listed as endangered because of the decreased northern white rhino population, but it recovered until 1996, when it fell into endangered territory again. The park houses elephants, giraffes, hippopotamuses, and used to have northern white rhinos, but only three—yes, three—now exist in the entire world. The biggest problem facing Garamba is uncontrollable poaching. In 2014, Congolese and South Sudan poachers murdered 68 elephants in a two-month period. In 2015, poachers killed three park rangers and a military officer who were trying to protect the elephants. In the 1960s, the elephant population was 20,000; in 2012 it was only 2000. Because of the renegade poachers—who attack from helicopters—the situation continues to be dire.

9. KAHUZI-BIEGA NATIONAL PARK // DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Another Congo site—this one located in a Congolese tropical forest—Kahuzi-Biega National Park contains two extinct volcanoes (the park is named after them) and a population of about 250 lowland gorillas. The park also contains 13 other primates including chimps, a variety of other mammals, and over 349 bird species. In 1980 it became an UNESCO site, and in 1997 it became endangered—largely due to its population of rare animals. Poaching is a huge concern, and so is the lack of security, a buffer zone, management, and political instability causing the human population to be displaced.

10. ANCIENT CITY OF ALEPPO // SYRIA

Ramzi Haidar /AFP/Getty Images

The Ancient City of Aleppo—once an intersection for many trade routes—was designated a UNESCO site in 1986 and landed on the endangered list in 2013 as a result of the Battle of Aleppo, which has led to much of the city being destroyed. But plans are in the works to restore the city and to add a buffer zone to protect Aleppo from further damage. Besides Aleppo, Syria’s ancient cities of Bosra and Damascus; villages of North Syria, Crac des Chevaliers, and Qal’at Salah El-Din; and Palmyra are also on the endangered list.

11. HISTORIC TOWN OF ZABID // YEMEN

The capital of Yemen from the 13th to 15th centuries, Zabid also became an entryway to the spread of Islam throughout the country, mainly because of its 86 mosques that educated the masses. UNESCO inscribed the city in 1993 in appreciation of the domestic and military architecture of watchtowers and citadels, but deemed it endangered in 2000. Insufficient upkeep over the past 15 years, the use of concrete and corrugated steel sheeting, and the addition of electricity have caused the buildings to deteriorate to the point where up to 40 percent of the structures are weak. To combat further decay, an infrastructure improvement project was instilled in 2004.

12. EAST RENNELL // SOLOMON ISLANDS

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Located in the South Pacific, the Solomon Islands are hard to get to, but that doesn’t exclude them from threats. East Rennell makes up the southern third of Rennell Island and is the southernmost island in the archipelago. It’s also the largest raised coral atoll in the entire world. The island’s mostly covered by dense forest, but they have Lake Tegano, which is home to a variety of endemic species. The island has about 1200 residents, who rely on the land for sustenance; among the plants they harvest are taro and coconut, both of which are becoming scarce because of rising sea levels and climate change. Eleven types of bats live on the island, along with 730 insect species, and 27 kinds of land snails, leading UNESCO to refer to Rennell as “a true natural laboratory for scientific study.” Besides the climate change issue, logging, mining, and commercial fishing have thrown Rennell onto the endangered list. A National Protected Areas Act, passed in 2010, is helping to preserve the area.

13. PORTOBELO-SAN LORENZO // PANAMA

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish empire built several batteries, castles, and forts to protect transatlantic trade. Some of them look like that fortress from the season one finale of True Detective, and were just as effective. Portobelo and San Lorenzo, the fortifications on the Caribbean side of Panama, are divided by sections; San Fernando, near the Bay of Portobelo, includes Lower Battery, Upper Battery, and Hilltop Stronghold. Santiago contains castles and ruins, and the Chagres River has the San Lorenzo Castle. Its military architecture, most of which still stands today, is one of the reasons UNESCO inscribed the site in 1980, but decay from urban growth and lack of maintenance landed it on the endangered list in 2012. Despite many legislations and plans being enacted over the years, effective protection and management remains a pivotal issue.

14. HUMBERSTONE AND SANTA LAURA SALTPETER WORKS // CHILE

By Hermann Luyken - Own work (Own picture), CC BY-SA 3.0

Saltpeter, better known as potassium nitrate, is used in fertilizers and fireworks. From 1880 to around 1960, pampinos (workers) mined the salt during harsh conditions in the middle of Chile’s Pampas desert. Once production left the area in the 1960s, it basically became a ghost town; in 1970 it was declared a National Monument and opened up to tourists. When the site was in production, it generated the largest deposit of saltpeter in the world, transforming agriculture as we know it, and making Chile a rich country. Over 200 works remain, from a swimming pool to a railway to the refineries of Santa Laura and Humberstone, the more successful of the two refineries. Because of salt water mist drifting in from the Pacific Ocean damaging metals, an earthquake, and lack of maintenance, UNESCO added the site to its endangered list in 2005.

15. CHAN CHAN // PERU

Believed to be constructed in 850 A.D., Chan Chan was once the capital city of the Chimor empire with an estimated population of about 40,000 to 60,000. The city—the largest in pre-Columbian America—was at is peak in the 15th century, just before it fell to the Incas. The site was marked as endangered in 1986, because of its vulnerability to climate change. The site has been further threatened because of frequent plundering of its remains, and the proposed construction of a road that would cross the city.

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California Startup Pays Users to Consume Less Energy
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You may know that turning off the lights when leaving a room or lowering the thermostat before bed are smart habits, but with no way to see their immediate impact, they can be hard to keep. OhmConnect is built around the premise that more people would follow through with these actions if they had a little motivation. As Fast Company reports, the San Francisco-based startup rewards California residents for their green choices with real cash.

The mission of the company is to prevent energy grids from using costly and dirty emergency power plants by encouraging customers to conserve power when demand outweighs supply. During “OhmHours,” users receive a text suggesting energy-saving practices. They can choose to opt out or agree to make an effort to lower their consumption. If their usage in the next hour is lower than the average for their home on that type of day (weekdays are compared to the weekday average; weekends to the weekend average) they receive points which can be redeemed for money. The more people participate on a regular basis, the more points they’re able to earn.

Participants in homes equipped with smart devices like a Nest thermostat or Belkin smart switches can program them to automatically consume less during those times. Nearly a fifth of the user base chooses some type of automatic response.

Someone living in a small apartment participating once a week has the potential to make $40 to $50 a year, while a family living in a larger home can earn up to $200. The California energy grid has also reaped the benefits: Since launching in 2014, OhmConnect has saved the state a total of 100 megawatts (the equivalent of not running two emergency power plants at high-demand times). California residents who get their energy through Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, or San Diego Gas & Electric can sign up to participate online. If you don’t live in the state but are interested in the service, you may get a chance to try it out soon: OhmConnect plans to expand to Texas, Toronto, and potentially the East Coast.

[h/t Fast Company]

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7 Eco-Friendly Options for Your Body After Death
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You drive a hybrid. You eat local. You recycle. But odds are your deathcare choices won’t reflect this eco-friendly lifestyle. Though it’s not likely to be discussed at a funeral, the popular methods of body disposal—traditional burial and cremation—both pose major environmental hazards.

According to the Natural Death Centre, a single cremation uses about as much gas and electricity as a 500-mile road trip. The process also emits around 250 pounds of carbon dioxide, as much as the average American home produces in about six days.

Traditional burial is arguably worse from an environmental perspective: Casket burials and the associated materials use 100,000 tons of steel and 1.5 million tons of concrete each year, as well as some 77,000 trees and 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid. There is also worry that some of that carcinogenic embalming fluid eventually leaks into the earth, polluting water and soil.

Historically speaking, the only after-death options available were natural ones, but those fell out of favor in the United States with the rise of the industrial age, embalming, and the professionalization of funeral director as a career. In recent years, natural interment has made a comeback, with promises to protect the planet and pocketbook alike—green burial also happens to be more affordable, on the whole.

Here are seven eco-friendly ways to make your last act on earth a kind one.

1. THE MUSHROOM BURIAL SUIT

Humans love eating mushrooms. Coeico founder and creator of the mushroom burial suit Jae Rhim Lee wants it the other way around. She’s created a pair of head-to-toe “ninja pajamas” lined with special mushroom spores to suit—and eventually consume—a dead body. The mushrooms, she says, are specially trained to devour dead human tissue.

The human body is filled with toxins that can be returned to the atmosphere in cremation and other forms of body disposal. Mushrooms have a knack for absorbing and purifying such toxins—a process known as mycoremediation—leaving the earth cleaner than they found it. Once the tissue is broken down, according to Lee, the mushrooms transmit the nutrients from the body to an intricate network of fungi in the soil that passes the sustenance on to trees. That means your last act could be feeding the forest with your now-purified remains. It’s an appealing thought for the green at heart, even though “eaten by mushrooms” may not be exactly how they pictured going out.

2. AQUAMATION

The slightly wavy surface of blue water
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With aquamation—also known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis—the body is placed in a stainless steel vessel filled with a solution of 95 percent water and 5 percent potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. A combination of rushing alkaline waters and temperatures around 350°F causes the body to dissolve in essentially the same process that happens to a body left on the earth or in a stream—only what would take months in nature takes about 20 hours in an aquamation pod. By the end, all that’s left is the skeleton, or parts thereof, which is ground up into a white powder with a pearly sheen. The remains are given to the loved ones, who may choose to scatter them like ashes or place them in a biodegradable urn. Advocates say the process emits about a fifth of the carbon dioxide of traditional cremation. Aquamation was legalized in California in late 2017, joining 14 other U.S. states and three Canadian provinces.

3. BODY FARMS

In the early 1970s, anthropologist William Bass wanted to study how bodies decompose naturally. Using donated cadavers, he created a “farm” for forensic anthropologists to study a wide array of body decomposition scenarios. What does it look like if a body rots in a swamp? If it’s eaten by maggots? Crows? Welcome to the body farm, where disturbing dreams come true.

Texas lays claim to the largest body farm in the U.S., located on Freeman Ranch at Texas State University. The body farm is responsible for massive developments in criminal science and thanatology (the study of death); it’s aided in critical discoveries including the “microbial clock”—a process by which time of death can be precisely identified by examining the posthumous microbiome.

Needless to say, the body farm is a huge win for detectives and scientists alike. People can donate their bodies to a local body farm to further research (and save a good chunk of change on interment). There are seven currently operating in the United States, with more planned soon.

4. SKY BURIAL

A vulture flying near a sky burial site in Tibet
Lyle Vincent, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In Tibet and other areas nearby, Buddhists practice a death ritual meant to encourage good karma. They take bodies to charnel grounds where vultures come to eat the flesh, offering back to the world what was taken in life: meat. It's believed that the practice encourages the dead to move along to the next life without being held back by one’s greatest attachment—their physical body. Ritual aside, it’s a practical answer due to the scarcity of wood and usable burial grounds (the rocky earth makes it hard to dig).

5. GREEN BURIAL

For those who would prefer not to be consumed by vulture nor spore, there’s a more traditional option. Green burial looks pretty much like a normal burial, accept for a few important differences. No embalming fluids or toxic chemicals of any kind can be used. The grave is often dug by hand (either by the green burial ground staff or, if they choose, the loved ones themselves). There is no cement plot. Only biodegradable caskets, such as wicker ones, can be used, or the body is simply placed in an unbleached cloth shroud. This allows the corpse to decompose naturally, returning its sustenance to the Earth. Many green burial grounds also act as wildlife refuges, creating safe spaces for animals and native plant life—families can choose from a variety of live, wild grasses and flowers to adorn the grave.

Aside from being environmentally friendly, this is a cheaper option than traditional burial considering the price tags on caskets, embalming, etc. While prices around the country vary, according to Undertaking LA—a mortuary that promotes green burial—the average funeral in Los Angeles is over $8000 not including the burial plot, whereas they offer green burial for under $7000 including the plot itself.

6. SEA BURIAL

Neil Armstrong's widow being presented with the U.S. flag during the astronaut's burial at sea
Neil Armstrong's widow being presented with the U.S. flag during the astronaut's burial at sea
NASA HQ PHOTO, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Following in the tradition of Vikings, naval officers, and pirates alike, those who loved the ocean in life can return in death with a sea burial. In addition to the countless water-soluble urns on the market, an entire body can be set to sea in designated areas off the U.S. coast. Though some burials involve dropping an entire modified casket to the ocean floor, environmentally inclined businesses like New England Burials at Sea offer more eco-friendly (and affordable) options such as natural burial shrouds hand-sewn by New England sail makers. A full day charter takes your funeral party out to sea, facilitating the open or closed casket service before dropping the body. Companies such as Eternal Reefs can also mix cremated remains with environmentally friendly concrete to create artificial reefs that support marine life. Not everyone would want to sleep with the fishes, but many sailors consider it the most sacred of exits.

7. RECOMPOSING

A maple leaf on a background of compost
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Body composting, or recomposition, could be the future of green burial—at least once it’s legal. Seattle-based architecture grad Katrina Spade got a lightbulb idea in 2012: Could she create a space and method for returning bodies to the earth naturally, sans concrete, steel, and carcinogens? The answer came in the form of human composting, the process of transforming bodies into soil, naturally.

Farmers have practiced livestock composting for decades. Wood chips and moisture and breeze combine to expedite the natural process of decay into nutrient-rich soil. Spade has begun a pilot project at Washington State University with bodies pledged by elderly and terminally ill fans of her cause.

If and when human composting is legalized, the Urban Death Project dreams of a brick-and-mortar recomposing facility. Families will ceremonially lower the shrouded corpse into the recomposing vessel and cover it with wood chips as they say goodbye. As soon as 30 days later, they can collect the remains, now transformed into (roughly) a cubic yard of soil, which they could then take home and use in their garden.

BONUS: BOG BODIES

Someone wading through a soggy peat marsh, or bog, in Ireland may be in for a real surprise—a perfectly preserved, if oddly tanned, corpse from another century. Why? The peat in the marsh creates a highly acidic environment that preserves flesh. So, while the alkaline waters of aquamation will dissolve a body post-haste, the acids from the bogs give a pH akin to that of vinegar. This acts like a pickling agent, freezing the body in time—some bog bodies are dated back as far as 8000 BCE. Sphagnan, a polymer produced by decaying sphagnum moss, is largely to thank for this phenomenon because of the way it binds to nitrogen and slows the growth of bacteria. The tannins in the peat act as a brown dye giving the bodies their leathery color. OK, it probably isn’t the next big trend in green burial, but bog mummification has been naturally preserving bodies for centuries sans greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals alike.

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