A cluster of four islands in Japan, tidal flats in South Korea, a Thai forest and Georgian wetlands are among four natural and three cultural sites added to Unesco's World Heritage List on Monday.
The cultural sites included Arslantepe Mound in Turkey, extension of Defence Lines of Amsterdam, henceforth to be known as Dutch Water Defence Lines, and the transnational site of Colonies of Benevolence (Belgium and Netherlands).
These additions were made during the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee, which is being held online and chaired from Fuzhou, China. The inscription of sites on Unesco's World Heritage List, which has so far included the Hima Cultural Area in Saudi Arabia, continues until Wednesday.
Scroll through the gallery above for some of the sites that have been added to the Unesco World Heritage List in 2021.
Japan’s diverse ecosystems
A cluster of four islands in Japan, which are home to diverse ecosystems and a number of rare species, have been added to Unesco’s natural World Heritage Sites list.
The 43,000-hectare area, comprising Amami-Oshima Island and Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, as well as the northern part of the main Okinawa Island and Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture, have remained largely isolated, allowing plant and animal species to flourish.
"This inscription will build on the momentum of the worldwide efforts to conserve global biodiversity, because these islands host precious natural habitats for outstanding endangered species, wild fauna and flora. It means that we will have to step up our work to manage and to conserve these valuable sites," Japanese Environment Minister Koizumi Shinjiro said following the announcement.
"Please come and visit this beautiful World Heritage Site once the pandemic is over. See for yourself the amazing blessings of nature and be part of the movement to conserve our precious biodiversity."
The chain of islands becomes Japan’s fifth natural World Heritage Site.
The Japanese government submitted its original proposal for the World Heritage list in 2017, though rescinded it after doubts were raised about preservation efforts on the islands.
It later reworked the proposal and increased steps against invasive species before resubmitting in February 2019.
Georgia’s protected wetlands
Recognised as a major element of the Black Sea basin and the South Caucasus ecological system, the Mtirala and Kolkheti National Parks, as well as the Kintrishi and Kobuleti protected areas, have been inscribed onto Unesco’s natural World Heritage List.
The territorial formations, safeguarded by the Agency of Protected Areas of Georgia, were formed between 1959 and 2007.
"The site comprises seven component parts, within an 80-kilometre-long corridor along the warm-temperate and extremely humid eastern coast of the Black Sea," Unesco said. "They provide a series of the most typical Colchic ecosystems at altitudes ranging from sea level to more than 2,500 metres above it.
"The site is home to approximately 1,100 species of vascular and non-vascular plants, including 44 threatened vascular plant species, and almost 500 species of vertebrates, and a high number of invertebrate species. The site also harbours 19 threatened animal species, including sturgeon, notably the critically endangered Colchic sturgeon. It is a key stopover for many globally threatened birds that migrate through the Batumi bottleneck."
Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili called the decision a "crucial event not only for the country, but [also for] the region".
Korean Tidal Flats of Getbol
Situated in the eastern Yellow Sea on the south-western and southern coast of the Republic of Korea, the site comprises four component parts: Seocheon Getbol, Gochang Getbol, Shinan Getbol and Boseong-Suncheon Getbol.
"The site exhibits a complex combination of geological, oceanographic and climatologic conditions that have led to the development of coastal diverse sedimentary systems," Unesco said. "Each component represents one of four tidal flat subtypes –estuarine type, open embayed type, archipelago type and semi-enclosed type. The site hosts high levels of biodiversity, with reports of 2,150 species of flora and fauna, including 22 globally threatened or near-threatened species.
"The site demonstrates the link between geodiversity and biodiversity, and demonstrates the dependence of cultural diversity and human activity on the natural environment," it said.
Thailand's Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex
Located at the crossroads between the Himalayan, Indochina and Sumatran faunal and floral realms, this site is home to rich biodiversity. It is dominated by semi-evergreen/dry evergreen and moist evergreen forest with some mixed deciduous, montane and deciduous dipterocarp forests.
"A number of endemic and globally endangered plant species have been reported in the property, which overlaps with two Important Bird Areas and is noted for its rich diversity of birdlife, including eight globally threatened species," Unesco said. "It is home to the critically endangered Siamese Crocodile, the endangered Asiatic Wild Dog, Banteng, Asian Elephant, Yellow/Elongated Tortoise, and the endangered Asian Giant Tortoise, as well as several other vulnerable species of birds and mammals."
Eight cat species also call the site home, including the endangered tiger, fishing cat and the near-threatened leopard, it added.
Turkey’s archaeological treasure trove
The four-hectare, 30-metre-high archaeological mound, known as the Arslantepe Mound, formed by the superimposition of settlements for millennia, dates back to at least the 6th millennium BCE to the late Roman period.
The archaeological site and its palace are a unique visible testimony to the crucial process of state formation and the transformation of society from egalitarian to hierarchical and politically centralised, Unesco said. The palace is the first example in the world of this type of architectural and functional organisation of power.
The site has been the subject of extensive excavations carried out over 50 years by the Italian Archaeological Expedition of the Sapienza University of Rome, which have brought to light rich material remains of the many civilisations superimposed in the site, from their formation to their collapse.
Extension of Defence Lines of Amsterdam, now known as Dutch Water Defence Lines
First inscribed in 1996, the Defence Line of Amsterdam World Heritage Site now stretches from the IJsselmeer (previously known as Zuiderzee) at Muiden to the Biesbosch estuary at Werkendam. This modification adds the New Dutch Waterline to the existing site and will now be referred to as the Dutch Water Defence Lines.
"The extension illustrates a single military defence system, which was based on inundation fields, hydraulic installations and on a series of fortifications and military posts stretching over an area of 85km," Unesco writes.
Built from 1814 to 1940, the extension complements the already inscribed site, which is the only example of a fortification based on the principle of controlling the waters, it said.
"Since the 16th century, the people of the Netherlands have used their expert knowledge of hydraulic engineering for defence purposes. The centre of the country was protected by a network of 45 armed forts, acting in concert with temporary flooding from polders and an intricate system of canals and locks."
Colonies of Benevolence in Belgium and the Netherlands
The transnational site covers four settlements, including one colony in Belgium and three in the Netherlands.
The Society of Benevolence (Maatschappij van Weldadigheid) was a Dutch private organisation set up in 1818 to help poor families, mostly from the big cities, improve their lives in the aftermath of the Napoleonic French occupation by granting them farming land. Frederiksoord in the Netherlands is the earliest of these colonies and home to the original headquarters of the Society of Benevolence.
Other sites are the colonies of Wilhelminaoord and Veenhuizen in the Netherlands, and Wortel in Belgium.
"Together they bear witness to a 19th-century experiment in social reform, an effort to alleviate urban poverty by establishing agricultural colonies in remote locations," Unesco said.
The World Heritage Committee's two-week session is assessing the condition and management of more than 1,100 existing sites, and accepting nominations from countries for new World Heritage Sites.
This year, 39 nominations proposed in 2020 and 2021 are being examined, split between cultural, natural and mixed sites.
Last week, Liverpool's waterfront was removed from Unesco's list after concerns about overdevelopment, including plans for a new football stadium. Liverpool had been on Unesco's "in danger" list since 2012 owing to development in the city's north docks.