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Under the radar: Australian World Heritage Sites you may not know about

Australia is home to 19 World Heritage Sites, including the eerie Willandra Lakes Region.

Under the radar: Australian World Heritage Sites you may not know about

In a new book by environmental academic and conservationist Peter Valentine, World Heritage Sites of Australia showcases the history, importance and future outlook for Australia's 19 sites of major cultural, natural, ecological and historical significance. Whether it's hiding some of the oldest human skeletons in the world, the "other" Barrier Reef, or a home for millions of penguins, each site has something to surprise you.

Under the radar: Australian World Heritage Sites you may not know about

Willandra Lakes Region

In addition to providing archaeological evidence as to how people once lived here, the Willandra Lakes Region (pictured above) has fascinated paleontologists, biologists and geologists on account of the landscape’s incredible evolution over the past 100,000 years. 

Some of Australia’s oldest – and indeed the world’s – human skeletons have been found here, some dating back 42,000 years.

New material continues to be disovered in this region, including 20,000-year-old footprints, underlining the area’s value as a globally precious archaeological resource – the primary reason it has held World Heritage status for nearly 40 years.

Read more: Our top five Australian walks

Ningaloo Coast

On the opposite side of Australia to the Great Barrier Reef lies another of the world’s most exceptional reef systems.

Stretching 290 kilometres along Western Australia’s western coast, the Ningaloo Coast has been a World Heritage site since 2011 on account of the area’s high marine species diversity and abundance.

The Ningaloo Coast is just as vastly complex as its "bigger brother", The Great Barrier Reef.

The Ningaloo Coast is just as vastly complex as its “bigger brother”, The Great Barrier Reef.

But that protection serves its terrestrial ecological significance, too.

Further inland, karst formations, cave life and other associated habitats and species rely on this desolate, arid and beautiful coastline.

Every year, migrating humpback whales pass through en route north to calving grounds off the Kimberley Coast before returning to Antarctic waters.

Macquarie Island

Located halfway between Australia and Antarctica, rugged and wild Macquarie Island is home to enormous numbers of several species of penguins, with Lusitania Bay alone a colony for 250,000 breeding penguins between November and May.

Penguin colonies numbering in their hundreds of thousands have long called Macquarie Island home.

Penguin colonies numbering in their hundreds of thousands have long called Macquarie Island home.

The island was first sighted in 1810 by sealers, and it took them just five years to drive fur seals here to near-extinction, having already plundered populations in Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.

Since March 1948, Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions have been operating a scientific research station on the island.

After failed attempts in 1992 and 1996, Macquarie Island became a World Heritage Site in 2000.

Greater Blue Mountains

In World Heritage Sites of Australia, author Peter Valentine describes the iconic Blue Mountains as “the home of the Australian conservation movement”.

The establishment of the Blue Mountains National Park was the first step in a journey towards attaining World Heritage status.

The Blue Mountains are a popular visitor destination but conflict abounds in relation to its conservation and management.

The Blue Mountains are a popular visitor destination but conflict abounds in relation to its conservation and management.

However, protection efforts have been overshadowed by human activity, including mining adjacent to the park and the “encroachment of inappropriate recreation and tourism infrastructure and activities,” according to Valentine.

Nevertheless, the Blue Mountains remain and will continue to be a jewel in the crown of Australia’s landscape attractions and is sure to be a focal point for conservation and ecological preservation for generations to come.

Great Barrier Reef

Ever since oil exploration permits were granted across almost the entire Great Barrier Reef in the 1960s, the world’s largest coral reef system has been at the forefront of ecological concern and climate change fears.

In the face of climate change the prognosis for the world's largest coral reef is "grave".

In the face of climate change the prognosis for the world’s largest coral reef is “grave”.

A conservation uproar ensured the tide began to turn, though, and by 1981 it was inscribed on the World Heritage List as the journey.

In 2014 the Marine Park Authority said the greatest threat to the reef’s existence was climate change, with the IUCN reinforcing these concerns and Unesco considering labelling the area as ‘in danger’.

Coral bleaching is one of the key symptoms of the effects of climate change upon the reef – from which many corals (and the habitats that depend on them) will not recover.

The prognosis is, as Valentine records, “grave”. 

World Heritage Sites of Australia by Peter Valentine provides a fascinating historic and photographic guide to 19 of Australia’s World Heritage sites and the role they place in shaping our natural and cultural history.

RRP: AU $49.99

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