Image: Kure Atoll
RJ Shallenberger / USFWS via Sea
Kure Atoll is the last emergent land feature in the Hawaiian Archipelago.
updated 8/3/2010 7:55:57 PM ET 2010-08-03T23:55:57

The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument — a pristine haven for coral and other marine life, and a treasured site of ancient Hawaiian shrines — has been named a U.N. World Heritage site.

The area northwest of the main Hawaiian islands is the only U.S. location to make the list for both natural and cultural reasons, said monument spokesman Dan Dennison.

The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, made the decision at a meeting in Brazil, Dennison said.

The committee aims to identify sites "considered to be of outstanding value to humanity" and encourages their protection and preservation. There are currently about 890 sites around the world on the list.

The State Department said the monument is the first U.S. site to be added in 15 years. The Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are among 20 U.S. sites already recognized.

No fishing allowed
Papahanaumokuakea consists of remote, mostly uninhabited atolls northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands and the waters surrounding them.

It's home to 69 percent of the coral reefs in U.S. territory. It also hosts 7,000 marine species, a quarter of which are found only in Hawaii. The area is off-limits to fishing, allowing for healthy and abundant populations of sharks, ulua or jackfish, and other marine life.

According to a website about the area, visiting is permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only for scientific, educational and cultural purposes.

At Mokumanamana, a rocky outcrop in the monument about 460 miles northwest of Honolulu, ancient heiau, or shrines, line the top of a ridge running along the spine of the island.

There are similar shrines, with upright stones, in the main Hawaiian islands atop the highest peaks of Maui — Haleakala — and of the Big island — Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.

But Mokumanamana has an unusually high concentration of heiau — at least 34 on just 46 acres.

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Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said the listing will help preserve Papahanaumokuakea for future generations.

"We are very proud of this historic inscription," Apoliona said in a statement.

The monument is the nation's single largest conservation area and is nearly 100 times larger than Yosemite National Park.

President George W. Bush made the area a national monument in 2006.

21 designations
Delegates from the 193 nations that signed the 1972 World Heritage Convention were in Brazil for 10 days of meetings, which ended Aug. 2.

The Bikini Atoll and a silver trade route in Mexico also were among 21 new places added to the list of World Heritage sites. The additions bring to 911 the total number of sites on the list.

The committee also designated four sites as endangered, including Everglades National Park in Florida. The Everglades, home to 20 endangered species, was previously on the list from 1993 to 2007 because large amounts of water were being diverted to cities. UNESCO said in a statement the park was added again for the same reason.

Other places newly added to the endangered list were the Atsinanana rain forests of Madagascar, where illegal logging and poaching are a threat to rare lemurs; the Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery in Georgia, and the tombs of Buganda Kings in Uganda. The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador were removed from the endangered list.

Being on the endangered list allows the agency to allocate immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund.

In a statement, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands was designated a World Heritage Site because it symbolizes the "dawn of the nuclear age." Nuclear bomb tests conducted there in the 1940s and '50s also had "major consequences" on the geology and environment of the atoll, UNESCO said.

Also designated a World Heritage site was the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, a trade route from Mexico north to the U.S. that was used from the 16th to 19th centuries for transporting silver.

Other cultural attractions designated as World Heritage sites during the UNESCO committee meeting were the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi in Vietnam, built in the 11th century; historic monuments of Dengfeng in China; the archaeological site Sarazm in Tajikistan; the Episcopal city of Albi in France; a 17th-century canal ring in Amsterdam; Sao Francisco Square in Sao Cristovao, Brazil, which dates to the 16th century; the prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla in Oaxaca, Mexico; the Turaif District in Saudi Arabia; the Australian Convict penal sites; the Jantar Mantar astronomical observation site in India; a shrine complex in Ardabil in Iran; the Tabriz historic bazaar complex, also in Iran; and historic villages of Hahoe and Yangdong in South Korea.

Five natural sites added to the list were Sri Lanka's biodiverse highlands, which UNESCO described as being home to "an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including several endangered species"; China Danxia, in China, where UNESCO said that red cliffs, waterfalls and forests are home to 400 rare or threatened species of plants and animals; the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati, in the South Pacific, one of the world's largest coral archipelago ecosystems; Reunion Island, comprised of two volcanic peaks and rugged terrain in the Indian Ocean; and the Putorana Plateau in Russian, north of the Arctic Circle in Siberia.

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Photos: UNESCO World Heritage sites

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  1. Mount Danxia, China

    A picturesque valley is seen through the rock formations at Mount Danxia outside the city of Shaoguan, located in the Guangdong province in southern China. Mount Danxia is famed for its rugged red landscapes that emerged from river silt deposits. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Kure Atoll, Hawaii

    Aerial image of Kure Atoll, the last emergent land feature in the Hawaiian Archipelago. (RJ Shallenberger / USFWS via Sea) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Reunion island, Indian Ocean

    Piton de la Fournaise -- or Peak of the Furnace -- is seen in the Reunion island, a French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean. (Lionel Cironneau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Yangdong village, South Korea

    Visitors walk around Yangdong village in Gyeongju, southeast of Seoul, South Korea. Yangdong and another South Korean village, Hahoe, were added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in recognition of their Confucian cultural characteristics. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla, mexico

    The prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla in the central valley of Oaxaca. The cultural landscape of the caves demonstrates the link between man and nature that gave origin to the domestication of plants in North America, thus allowing the rise of Mesoamerican civilizations. (INAH via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Pheonix Island, Kiribati

    Spectacular table corals that take decades to form are found throughout the shallow waters of the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati. (David Obura / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Longmen Grottoes, China

    Tourists view Buddhist sculptures at Longmen Grottoes in the outskirts of Luoyang of Henan Province, China. UNESCO lists the site as a world heritage center featuring Buddhist images, shrines and relics. (China Photos / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Al-Hijr, Saudi Arabia

    A section of the archaeological site of Al-Hijr, in northern Saudi Arabia, was added on to UNESCO's World Heritage List on July 6, 2008. Al-Hijr, also known as Madain Salehthe, is the largest conserved site of the civilization of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan, and is the first World Heritage site in Saudi Arabia. (Hassan Ammar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pontcysyllte Canal, United Kingdom

    Situated in northeastern Wales, the Pontcysyllte Canal is 18 kilometers in length and is a feat of civil engineering of the Industrial Revolution, completed in the early 19th century. Covering a difficult geographical setting, the building of the canal required substantial, bold civil engineering solutions. The aqueduct is a pioneering masterpiece of engineering and monumental metal architecture, conceived by the celebrated civil engineer Thomas Telford. The use of both cast and wrought iron in the aqueduct enabled the construction of arches that were light and strong. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Iguazu Falls, Brazil & Argentina

    The “Garganta del Diablo” (Devil’s Throat) falls at Iguazu National Park in the Argentinian province of Misiones. Depending on the water level of the Iguazu River, the park has between 160 and 260 waterfalls, and more than 2,000 varieties of plants and 400 species of birds. The Iguazu National Park was added to the World Heritage List in 1984. (Christian Rizzi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Bayon Temple, Cambodia

    The Bayon Temple, near Siem Reap, Cambodia, is famous for its multitude of giant stone faces. There are more than 1,000 temples in the Angkor area, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat, said to be the world's largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture. Nearly 1 million people visit each year. (Voishmel / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom

    Mysterious Stonehenge is a megalithic rock monument of 150 enormous stones set in a circle. The ancient monument is believed to have been constructed in 3000 B.C. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1986. (Matt Cardy / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Bafang Pavilion, China

    A tourist walks in the Bafang Pavilion at the Summer Palace, a famous classic imperial garden in Beijing, China. The Summer Palace, built in 1750, was destroyed in 1860 and rebuilt in 1886. It was added to the World Heritage List in 1998. (China Photos / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Statue of Liberty, United States

    The Statue of Liberty is seen at sunset in New York. “Lady Liberty” was a gift from France, and stands at the entrance to New York Harbor. The Statue of Liberty was added to the World Heritage List in 1984. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos National Park

    “Solitario George” (Lonely George), the last living giant tortoise of this species, is cared for at the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador. He is estimated to be between 60 and 90 years old. The Galapagos Islands were originally added to the World Heritage List in 1978, and were upgraded to The List in Danger in 2007. (Rodrigo Buendia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Kinderdijk's Mill Area, Netherlands

    People skate on frozen canals in Kinderdijk's Mill Area, a UNESCO World Heritage site, near Rotterdam, Netherlands. Kinderdijk has the largest collection of historical windmills in the Netherlands, and is a top tourist sight in southern Holland. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

    A view of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, an ecotourism destination in Patagonia, Argentina, was declared a Natural World Heritage Site in 1981. The glacier, in the province of Santa Cruz, is one of the most significant natural attractions of Argentina. (Daniel Garcia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Old Havana, Cuba

    Cubans ride in an old car on Havana's coastal "Malecon" in Cuba. UNESCO chose Old Havana and its fortifications as a World Heritage List site in 1982. While Havana has seen sprawl and is home to more than 2 million people, its old center retains an interesting mix of baroque and neoclassical monuments, and a homogeneous ensemble of private houses with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards, the World Heritage Web site claims. (Javier Galeano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Shrine of the Bab, Israel

    Terraced gardens surround the golden-domed Shrine of the Bab of the Bahai faith in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. The world spiritual center of the Bahai faith, whose devotees number less than 6 million worldwide, was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008. (David Silverman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. St. Peters Square, Vatican City

    A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the small state of Vatican City, the World Heritage Site says. Vatican City was added to the group's list in 1984. Heritage List in 1984. (Giulio Napolitano / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

    A colorful underwater scene at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The thriving ecosystem includes the world’s biggest collection of coral reefs, including 400 types of coral and 1,500 fish species. The Great Barrier Reef was added to the World Heritage List in 1981. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Petra, Jordan

    Camels rest in front of the main monument in Jordan's ancient city of Petra, the "Khazneh" or Treasury, that was carved out of sandstone to serve as a tomb for a Nabatean king. The city, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, was an important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia, according to the World Heritage Web site. Petra was added to the World Heritage List in 1985. (Thomas Coex / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Yellowstone National Park

    A herd of elk graze in the meadows of Yellowstone National Park. In the background stand Mount Holmes, left, and Mount Dome. Yellowstone contains half of the world's known geothermal features, with more than 10,000 examples, the World Heritage Web site says. Yellowstone was added to the World Heritage List in 1978. (Kevork Djansezian / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Sydney Opera House, Australia

    The Australian landmark "is a great architectural work of the 20th century that brings together multiple strands of creativity and innovation in both architectural form and structural design," according to the World Heritage Web site. The Opera House joined the World Heritage List in 2007. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Drakensbreg Mountains, South Africa

    Rock paintings made by the San people are seen in the Drakensbreg Mountains in eastern South Africa. The San people lived in the Drakensberg area for thousands of years before being exterminated in clashes with the Zulus and white settlers. They left behind an extraordinary collection of rock paintings in the Drakensberg Mountains, earning the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2000. (Alexander Joe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Shibam, Yemen

    This is a general view of the historical walled city of Shibam in eastern Yemen's Hadramaut province. Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982, is known for its highrise mud-brick buildings, and is nicknamed of "the Manhattan of the desert." (Khaled Fazaa / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Venice, Italy

    Gondolas line the bank near Venice's Grand Canal with the San Giorgio Maggiore church in the background. "The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world's greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others," the World Heritage Web site says of the city. Venice and its lagoon joined the World Heritage List in 1987. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Easter Island, Chile

    Huge, abandoned stone statues, known as "moals" in the Rapa Nui language, sit on the hillside of the Rano Raraku volcano on Easter Island, about 3,700 kilometers off the Chilean coast. The island in the Polynesian archipielago has many archeological sites. Rapa Nui National Park has been on UNESCO's World Heritage Site list since 1995. (Martin Bernetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Great Wall, China

    Visitors make their way along the Great Wall of China at Simatai, northeast of Beijing. This Ming-dynasty Wall was built as one of four major strategic strongholds for defensive purposes from tribes invading from the north. The Great Wall stretches approximately 4,000 miles and is one of the largest construction projects ever completed. It was added to the World Heritage List in 1987. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Hampi, India

    A temple is seen in Hampi, near the southern Indian city of Hospet, north of Bangalore. Hampi is located within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagar, the former capital of the Vijayangar empire. The village of Hampi and its monuments were inscribed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. (Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Potala Palace, Tibet

    A Tibetan pilgrim spins prayer wheels as she offers prayers while encircling the grounds of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Since UNESCO named the Potala Palace a World Heritage site in 1994, Chinese authorities claim it belongs to the people of the world, and no longer to the Dalai Lama. Even if the exiled Dalai Lama were permitted to return to Tibet, it is highly unlikely he would be allowed to live in the 1,300-year-old palace. (Goh Chai Hin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Machu Picchu, Peru

    The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is located near the Peruvian city of Cusco. Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and was added to the World Heritage List in 1983. (Eitan Abramovich / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Mount Koya, Japan

    The Buddhist pagoda called Konpon Daito at Mount Koya, in Wakayama province, Japan, represents the central point of a mandala covering all of Japan, according to Shingon Buddhist doctrine. Mount Koya, located east of Osaka, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. It was first settled in 819 by the Buddhist monk Kukai, founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. (Everett Kennedy Brown / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Bodhnath stupa, Nepal

    Tibetan women walk around the Bodhnath stupa, one of the largest stupas in the world, in Kathmandu, Nepal. The cultural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley is illustrated by seven groups of monuments and buildings which display the full range of historic and artistic achievements for which the Kathmandu Valley is world famous, the World Heritage Web site reports. Kathmandu Valley was added to the World Heritage List in 1979. (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Taj Mahal, India

    A bird flies over the 17th century Mughal-built Taj Mahal mausoleum in Agra, India. The Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The architectural marvel was also named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

    UNESCO World Heritage

    The New Seven Wonders (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (35) World Heritage Sites
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    Slideshow (17) Hawaiian paradise


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