Discover Natural World Heritage Sites

Natural World Heritage sites

    Natural World Heritage sites are areas of stunning natural beauty, which not only harbour unique ecosystems, geodiversity and rare species, but also reflect a collective commitment to safeguarding the planet’s most precious places for future generations. Examples include the Galápagos Islands, Kilimanjaro National Park, Yellowstone National Park, the Great Barrier Reef, Uruq Bani Ma’arid or Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. 

    The World Heritage List

    The World Heritage List currently comprises 1199 properties of Outstanding Universal Value, including 266 sites inscribed for their natural values (227 natural and 39 mixed sites). As the Secretariat of the World Heritage Convention, the World Heritage Centre - hosted by UNESCO - keeps track of the World Heritage List, including a description of why each site was inscribed on the List, maps of the inscribed property and surrounding buffer zone, as well as relevant documentation (nomination dossier, IUCN evaluation, IUCN advice, reports from governments, decisions from the World Heritage Committee).

    Shapefiles of all natural World Heritage sites are available on the World Database on Protected Areas, using, as well as on IBAT or UNESCO’s World Heritage Online Map Platform.

    Why is natural World Heritage important?

    World Heritage sites enjoy the highest level of international recognition through the 1972 World Heritage Convention, as places so valuable that their conservation transcends boundaries, cultures and generations. Our ability to secure the highest quality of protection to natural World Heritage sites is therefore a litmus test of the effectiveness of nature conservation more broadly.

    Although there are relatively few natural World Heritage sites compared to other types of protected areas, they cover very large areas that represent the best of nature. The 266 sites currently inscribed on the World Heritage List for their natural values cover about 8% of the world’s total protected lands and seas.

    Facts & Figures

    • There are 266 World Heritage sites in 115 countries which are listed for natural values.
    • 227 classified as “natural sites”.
    • 39 classified as “mixed sites” - both natural and cultural.
    • 22% of World Heritage sites (22% of all 1199 sites) are recognised for their outstanding nature conservation values.
    • Natural World Heritage sites cover 476.6 million hectares (ha) of land and sea.
    • Natural World Heritage sites cover about 8% of the total area covered by all almost 300,000 protected areas.
    • World Heritage forests absorb approximately 190 million tons of CO2 each year (equivalent to half the United Kingdom’s annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels).
    • They are currently losing 58 billion tons of ice every year – equivalent to the combined annual water use of France and Spain– and are responsible for nearly 5% of observed global sea-level rise.
    • 20% of mapped global species richness in just 1% of Earth’s surface.
    • Over 75,000 species of plants.
    • Over 30,000 species of mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles and amphibians.
    • Over 20,000 threatened IUCN red listed species protected.
    • 1/3 of all remaining tigers and pandas.
    • 1/10 of great apes, giraffes, lions and rhinos.


    Top 10 biggest natural World Heritage sites



    Total area (ha)

    1. French Austral Lands and Seas



    2. Phoenix Islands Protected Area



    3. Papahānaumokuākea



    4. Great Barrier Reef



    5. Galápagos



    6. Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek

    USA / Canada


    7. Lake Baikal



    8. Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserves



    9. Tassili n’Ajjer



    10. Central Amazon Conservation Complex