Natural sites including rain forests in Madagascar and volcanoes and volcanic caves in South Korea have been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List of protected sites, the heritage committee announced Wednesday.
South China's Karst region of stone forests also was inscribed on the world conservation list — the three areas joining some 830 other natural, cultural and landmark sites round the globe at a meeting of the U.N. world heritage body in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch.
The committee said the rain forests of the Atsinanana, six national parks distributed on the eastern part of Madagascar, are "critically important" for the survival of the island's unique biodiversity — which evolved in isolation over 60 million years and including many rare species.
It noted that 78 of the 123 non-flying mammals in Madagascar occur in the forests, including 72 that are on the International Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species.
South China's Karst region — covering 200,000 square miles in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces — "represents one of the world's most spectacular examples of humid tropical to subtropical karst landscapes," the committee said. Karsts are areas where erosion has carved into limestone formations, producing caverns and sinkholes.
The area includes the Naigu stone forest, the Suyishan stone forest arising from a lake, and the stone forests of Shilin.
"The cone and tower karsts of Libo ... form a distinctive and beautiful landscape. Wulong Karst has been inscribed for its giant dolines, natural bridges and caves," said the committee, part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
On South Korea's Jeju Island the two volcanoes and nearby lava tube caves cover 46,400 acres and are an area "of outstanding aesthetic beauty (that) also bears testimony to the history of our planet, to its features and processes."
Among its key features the committee lists Geomunoreum, "the finest lava tube system of caves anywhere," the fortress-like Seongsan Ilchulbong volcanic cone rising out of the ocean and Mount Hallasan with its waterfalls, multi-shaped rock formations, and lake-filled crater.
On Tuesday the committee added the Galapagos Islands and Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park to its list of World Heritage sites in danger from environmental threats or overuse.
The committee now lists 29 of the 833 World Heritage Sites as in danger and requiring further protection.
At its 10-day meeting, delegates will also consider applications to add at least 42 other new sites — including the Sydney Opera House — to the World Heritage list.