The World Wildlife Fund issued a new report that warns nearly half of all World Heritage sites are being threatened by industrial activity. Oil and gas exploration, mining, and logging (legal and otherwise) all endanger some of the world’s most beloved and natural locations, many of which are home to biodiverse animal kingdoms. WWF is calling on world leaders to respond by taking more aggressive action to protect natural sites from commercial development and corporate interests.

wwf, world wildlife fund, world heritage sites, unesco world heritage sites, industrial activity, oil and gas exploration, belize

The WWF report (PDF) shows 114 of the 229 natural and mixed World Heritage sites have oil, gas or mining activity either overlapping their boundaries or otherwise threatened by industrial activity. Ninety percent of the protected sites create benefits outside their borders, and the report estimates more than 11 million people depend on World Heritage sites for food, water, shelter, and medicine. If the natural areas suffer damage from nearby industrial activity, those people could be negatively impacted as well.

Related: Oil exploration threatens Africa’s last mountain gorillas

wwf, world wildlife fund, world heritage sites, unesco world heritage sites, industrial activity, oil and gas exploration, belize

“World Heritage sites cover approximately 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s surface and include some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet. Yet even this small fraction of our planet isn’t receiving the protection it deserves,” said David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK. “These areas contribute to our economies through tourism and natural resources, providing livelihoods for millions of people, while also supporting some of the planet’s most valuable ecosystems, so we need to work together now to ensure they are properly protected.”

wwf, world wildlife fund, world heritage sites, unesco world heritage sites, industrial activity, oil and gas exploration, belize

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is one area highlighted in the WWF report of particular concern. Construction along the coast and large-scale clearance of mangrove forests, combined with agricultural run-off, already threaten the reef. Potential oil exploration could further endanger the region. WWF claims these activities will create an uncertain future for nearly half of Belize’s population.

+ WWF

Images via WWF