Marine World Heritage Photo Gallery
Marine World Heritage is a prestigious list of 43 marine ecosystems and biodiversity treasures from across the globe, including countries such as Australia, Iceland, Russia, South Africa, the Phillippines, United States, and Yemen. Together, they can be considered the “Crown Jewels of our Ocean” and are recognized for their outstanding beauty, exceptional biodiversity, or unique ecological, biological, or geological processes.
In this slideshow, explore the beauty of all 43 Marine World Heritage sites and some of the magnificent marine life within them. Visit the Ocean Portal's Marine World Heritage page to see video, maps, links, and information on how to explore the sites using Google Ocean.
Península Valdés, Argentina
The Peninsula Valdes in Argentina was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1999. The site is home to important breeding populations of the endangered southern right whale (Eubalaena australis), southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina), and southern sea lion (Otaria flavescens), pictured here.
Reinhard Jahn Mannheim
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
A small giant clam -- yes, that's it's real name -- in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Heard & McDonald Islands, Australia
The Heard & McDonald Islands site in Australia was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997. As the only volcanically active sub-Antarctic islands, Heard and McDonald provide the opportunity to observe ongoing geomorphic processes and glacial dynamics. The distinctive conservation value of these pristine islands is the complete absence of introduced plants and animals - or any other human impact - which makes this site ideal breeding grounds for animals like the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) and king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), pictured here.
Macquarie Island, Australia
The Macquarie Island site in Australia was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997. The island is the exposed crest of the undersea Macquarie oceanic ridge, raised to its present position where the Indo-Australian tectonic plate meets the Pacific plate. It is a site of major geo-conservation significance, with exposures that include excellent examples of pillow basalts and other extrusive rocks. The island is used by a number of animals, including southern elephant seals, sub-Antarctic fur seals, albatross, giant petrels, and king penguins.
Shark Bay, Australia
The Shark Bay site in Australia was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991. The site is home to the world's richest and largest sea-grass beds; five species of endangered marine mammals, including dugongs (Dugong dugon), which feed on the grass; and stromatolites, dome-shaped structures created by cyanobacteria, one of the oldest forms of life on earth.
Government of Australia
The Sundarbans site in Bangladesh, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997, includes one of the largest remaining areas of mangroves in the world and supports a rich animal community.
Nicky de Battista
Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System site in Belize was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996. The site is an outstanding natural system, consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, and several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries. The system's seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees, and the American marine crocodile.
Brazilian Atlantic Islands: Fernando de Noronha and Atol das Rocas Reserves
The Brazilian Atlantic Islands site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2001. The rich waters of the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago and Rocas Atoll are extremely important for the breeding and feeding of tuna, shark, turtle, and marine mammals. The site is home to the largest concentration of tropical seabirds in the Western Atlantic. Baia de Golfinhos has an exceptional population of resident dolphin, and at low tide, the Rocal Atoll provides a spectacular seascape of lagoons and tidal pools teeming with fish.
Kluane/Wrangell-St Elias/Glacier Bay/Tashenshini-Alsek, Canada & the United States
The Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek site in Canada and the United States was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979. The sites protected areas along the boundary of Canada and the United States of America are the largest non-polar ice-field in the world and contain examples of some of the world's longest and most spectacular glaciers. Characterized by high mountains, ice-fields and glaciers, the site transitions from northern interior to coastal biogeoclimatic zones, resulting in high biodiversity with plant and animal communities ranging from marine, coastal forest, montane, sub-alpine, and alpine tundra, all in various successional stages.
Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, Colombia
The Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary site in Colombia was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006. The marine park surrounding Malpelo Island is the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, providing critical refuge for threatened and endangered marine mammals, fish, and turtles. The nutrient-loaded waters support rich aggregations of biodiversity, including populations of large predators like the hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), pictured here, and is an important source of fish and invertebrate larvae to surrounding waters.
Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica
A leatherback sea turtle crawls across the sand at the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste site in Costa Rica.
Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica
The Cocos Island National Park site in Costa Rica was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997. Cocos Island's position as the first point of contact with the northern equatorial counter-current and the myriad interactions between the island and the surrounding marine ecosystem make the area an ideal laboratory for the study of biological processes. The site hosts critical habitats for marine wildlife, including large pelagic species, especially sharks (like the hammerhead Sphyrna lewini), but also rays, tuna, and dolphins.
Sally Lightfood Crab, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands site in Ecuador was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978. Located in the equatorial Pacific Ocean nearly 1000 km from South America, the Galapagos Islands and the surrounding marine reserve are a unique "living museum and showcase of evolution." Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflect the processes that formed the islands, which together with the extreme isolation, led to the development of unusual animals, such as the land iguana, giant tortoise, and the many types of finch - all of which inspired Charles Darwin's development of the theory of evolution by natural selection, following his visit in 1835. Pictured here is the Sally lightfoot crab, Grapsus grapsus.
Gulf of Porto: Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata, Scandola Reserve, France
The Gulf of Porto: Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata, Scandola Reserve site in France was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1983. The site's vegetation is an outstanding example of scrubland. Seagulls, cormorants, and sea eagles can be found here, while the clear waters, with their islets and inaccessible caves, host a rich and diverse marine life.
Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems, France
The Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems site in France was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008. The site features an exceptional diversity of coral and fish species and a continuum of habitats from mangroves to seagrasses, with one of the world's most diverse concentrations of reef structures. The lagoons also provide habitat to a number of emblematic or threatened marine species such as giant grouper, black-spotted stingray, several species of sharks, whales, dolphins, turtles, and the third largest population of dugongs in the world.
Wadden Sea, Germany & the Netherlands
The Wadden Sea site in Germany and the Netherlands was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2009. It hosts marine mammals, including the harbor seal Phoca vitulina, pictured here.
A Unique World Heritage Site: Surtsey, Iceland
A grey seal at Iceland's Surtsey Island, a World Heritage site. Surtsey is unique because it's been protected since its formation in the 1960's, providing the world with a pristine natural laboratory.
Sundarbans National Park, India
The Sundarbans National Park site in India, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987, contains the world's largest mangrove forest and hosts a number of rare and endangered species including tigers, aquatic mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
The Komodo National Park site in Indonesia was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991. The site hosts "Komodo dragons" (Varanus komodoensis), a unique species that exists nowhere else in the world and is of great interest to scientists studying evolution. The rugged hillsides of dry savannah and pockets of thorny green vegetation contrast starkly with the brilliant white sandy beaches and blue coral-rich waters offshore. Pictured here is some of the diversity of marine life in the park: three species of tunicates ("sea squirts") - Polycarpa aurata is purple and orange, Atriolum robustum is green, and the blue is from the genus Rhopalaea.
Ujung Kulon National Park, Indonesia
The coral reefs of Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia, a World Heritage site, are dominated by a small number of coral species and support some of the richest fish fauna in the Indonesian archipelago.
C. Frank Starmer
Steller's sea eagles, a threatened species, gather on sea ice at the Shiretoko Peninsula in Japan.
Kushiro Nature Conservation Office, Ministry of the Environment
Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area site in Kiribati was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2010. The site encompasses one of the world's largest intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, together with 14 known underwater seamounts and other deep-sea habitats. There are about 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals, and 44 kinds of birds. The structure and functioning of the site's ecosystem illustrates its pristine nature and importance as a migration route and reservoir of organisms to surrounding exploited areas. Pictured here is a school of ornate butteryfly fish (Chaetodon ornatissimus), one of the many colorful fish protected within the boundaries of the site.
Banc d'Arguin National Park, Mauritania
The Banc d'Arguin National Park site in Mauritania was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1989. Fringing the Atlantic coast, the park comprises sand dunes, coastal swamps, small islands, and shallow coastal waters. A wide variety of migrating birds spend the winter, while several species of sea turtle and dolphin, used by fishermen to locate shoals of fish, can also be found here.
Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, Mexico
The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California site in Mexico was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2005. The site is important for its diversity of oceanographic processes, including wind- and current-driven upwelling, tidal mixing, and hydrothermal vents - all of which contribute to its extraordinary biological diversity. There are 890 fish species (90 of which occur nowhere else), 34 kinds of whales and dolphins, 25 species of coral, over 4,800 invertebrates, the poisonous yellow-bellied sea snake, and 90% of the world's Heermann's gulls. Within the site are breeding and nursery grounds for 30,000 California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), as well as feeding and wintering grounds for five of the world's eight species of marine turtles.
Sian Ka'an, Mexico
The Sian Ka'an site in Mexico was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987. The site's name means "Origin of the Sky" in Mayan and contains tropical forests, mangroves, and marshes, as well as a large marine area intersected by the Caribbean Barrier Reef. On land there are 1,200 plant species, five species of felines (including jaguars and ocelots), as well as threatened tapirs and peccaries. Aquatic animals include manatees and nesting colonies of jabiru storks, frigate birds, brown pelicans, and roseate spoonbills.