Global and regional context
Presently, only 46 World Sites (out of a total of nearly 936) are listed specifically for their coastal and/or marine values, on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Within the Indian Ocean region, only two marine sites are inscribed in the World Heritage list: iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa and Aldabra Atoll in Seychelles.
Several reports however, illustrate that various unique coastal and marine environments with potential Outstanding Universal Value exist in the Indian Ocean, in particular in areas under the jurisdiction of African countries.
This project concentrates on the development of a regional comparative assessment of potential areas with Outstanding Universal Value in the Indian Ocean with a focus on areas under jurisdiction of nine countries. The project is developed in support of the World Heritage Global Strategy and aims at improving a balanced and credible representation of marine sites on the World Heritage List
Aims and expected outcomesThe objective of the work is to identify new marine sites with potential Outstanding Universal Value in the Indian Ocean and, in particular, in areas under the jurisdiction of: Comoros, France (Mayotte & LaReunion), Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania. This identification is based on a thorough analysis of exceptional ecological and biological marine features in the Indian Ocean.
Furthermore, the project is serving as a pilot initiative toward applying a more science-based approach for the identification of new potential marine World Heritage sites globally. Over the mid-long term, it is envisioned that the science-based framework developed for this region, will be replicated to other marine ecoregions which are equally non- or underrepresented on the World Heritage list.
The project is expected to provide an overview of marine areas with potential Outstanding Universal Value in the Western Indian Ocean, and particularly in areas under the jurisdiction of Kenya, Tanzania, France, South-Africa, Madagascar, Comores, Mozambique, Seychelles and Mauritius. While the World Heritage Convention does not apply to areas beyond national jurisdiction, the project will not necessarily exclude those areas.
Exceptional marine sites in the Western Indian Ocean
Two features stand out as globally unique in the Western Indian Ocean - the Mozambique Channel and the Mascarene Plateau (map, lower right). They are distinct elements of the geological history of the Indian Ocean basin and affect the currents that drive all marine ecosystems and biodiversity in the region, from millions of years ago, until today.
The Mozambique Channel
The Mozambique Channel experiences a highly energetic and variable regime of circular currents (eddies, approx. 100-300 km across) that cause water to flow in all directions - north, south, east and west. These fundamentally affect the diversity and productivity of marine ecosystems within the channel. The coral reefs in the northern part of the channel are the most diverse in the Western Indo-Pacific, and represent a second hotspot of tropical marine biodiversity globally.
The open-water food webs in the channel support high concentrations of fish, turtles, marine mammals and seabirds that are critical for the species survival and are spectacular natural phenomena. They also support the coastal and national economic activities of the bordering countries, in sectors such as fisheries and tourism. The Mozambique Channel and East African coast are the prime habitat of the coelacanth, a 'living fossil' that exemplifies the long-term stability of this region. Selected sites within the Mozambique Channel express some aspect of the geological, oceanographic and biological features that make the channel unique globally, offering the possibility of a serial transboundary site. Countries bordering the Mozambique Channel include Mozambique, Madagascar, the Comoros, Tanzania, and France (Mayotte and the Scattered Islands).
The Mascarene Plateau
The Mascarene Plateau was produced from about 40-25 million years ago by a volcanic hotpot, the Mascarene-Reunion volcano. The banks on the plateau (Saya de Malha, Nazareth and Cargados Carajos) rise to just 20 m below the sea surface over 1000s of square km, with only a tiny fragment of emergent land at its southern tip, at St. Brandon's Island. The plateau is poorly known, but shows indications of unique oceanographic features and habitats, including the largest seagrass beds in the world, species endemism and significant aggregations of marine mammals and seabirds. The seabed of the Mascarene Plateau is within the EEZs of the Seychelles and Mauritius.