Blog Connections

Threatened by Oil and Gas Exploration

In the past week, it was all over the news that the DRC government has opened parts of Virunga WHS up (again) for oil and gas exploration. Simultaneously, I was prepping for my upcoming Chad trip and discovered that the Ennedi nomination had been significantly reduced in size to carve out an area for oil exploration just before nomination (much to the frustration of ICOMOS and IUCN). Surprisingly, in our ‘Damaged’ series of connections, we did not have a connection yet for World Heritage Sites Threatened by Oil and Gas Exploration (though we have Oil Spill). So I decided to create one.

A structured approach to finding these sites proved to be difficult. A search for “oil” on the UNESCO website brought me to 47 sites with “Soil” and similar words in their description. You’d want to do a full-text search on all documents, not only on the website text, but this feature is not available. A query through our “News Links” brought in a few more, as did a search in the State of Conservation (SOC) and IUCN outlook reports. None of the sites seemed to have been put in danger from oil or gas exploration. 

I ended up with 17 WHS which I think are the clearest examples. IUCN in its 2020 Outlook on the status of natural WHS, divides the threats they face into “Current” versus “Potential”. All quotes below are taken from the respective IUCN Outlook 2020 assessment unless stated otherwise.

Sites with Current Threats

  1. Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks: "Most of the mountain parks abut active resource extraction areas (forest harvest, oil and gas, and mining areas) and park managers have identified potential impacts to wildlife movement and species (e.g. grizzly bear, woodland caribou) posed by such activities."
  2. Dinosaur Provincial Park: "Gas exploration and development occurs on portions of the perimeter of the site and associated infrastructure has the potential to degrade the beauty of the site in those areas."
  3. Lake Malawi: "Offshore oil exploration activities have commenced in the northern part of the Lake... Although this is some distance from the World Heritage property it presents the risk of oil and other pollutants spilling into the lake, which would have far-reaching consequences. In late 2013, a second oil concession was awarded, which covers the southern part of the lake, including the entire property. ..  More recently, Hamra Holdings Inc. has been licensed to explore for oil in the lake until 2022."
  4. Ningaloo Coast: "There are several offshore oil and gas extraction operations near the site and a number of pending on- and offshore project proposals, which potentially pose a significant impact of the World Heritage values. Potential impacts include effects on migratory species, connectivity and ecological linkages within and adjacent the site, cumulative impacts including effects on migratory species from seismic testing, drilling, and operations. Offshore petroleum incidents, such as accidental discharge of oil or other pollutants pose a significant and most likely irreversible threat to the marine life and ecosystems."
  5. Paraty and Ilha Grande: "reservoirs located along the marine sedimentary basins, .., in waters between 2,000 and 3,000 meters deep and at distances ranging from 50 to 450 km from the coast. In their central part, the projects are located in front of the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Possible environmental impacts such as oil leaks, beach contamination, introduction of exotic invasive organisms and others, are related to the activities of the production pilots."
  6. Wadden Sea: "No new exploitation installations for oil and gas are permitted in the World Heritage site. One existing installation, the Mittelplate, was excised from the site, as well as a gas exploitation area in the Netherlands. .. Subsidence as a result of gas extraction in the Dutch part of the Wadden Sea is causing impacts, with a maximum of 42cm subsidence reported in 2015 underneath Ameland island."
  7. Wrangel Island: "Recent research indicates that the hydrocarbon potential in the South Chukchi Basin may be significantly higher than previously suggested. ... The interplay of oceanic advection, limited emergency response capacities and arctic weather conditions suggests that Wrangel Island, including important polar bear habitat, would likely be affected by spills even in considerable distances from the site."

Another one from North America must be added, Chaco Culture, although it is not mentioned in the Outlook as it is a cultural site and therefore not monitored by IUCN: "Energy exploration and extraction, specifically oil and gas production currently threatens viewshed and the assocciated cultural landscape" (Periodic Reporting 2013) and "On November 15, 2021, the Interior Department placed a 2-year pause of new oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands within a 10-mile buffer zone of Chaco Canyon." (news source).

And looking at the most recent developments, Virunga should be downgraded to this category as well: "Most of Virunga National Park is covered by 3 oil prospection blocks (Blocks III, IV, and V).... The World Heritage Committee has repeatedly expressed its concern regarding the existance of oil concessions in Virunga National Park and requested the DRC government to not issue any more exploration permits for Virunga NP."

Sites with Potential Threats

  1. Belize Barrier Reef: "A number of Petroleum Sharing Agreements (PSA) in the marine areas used to overlap or be adjacent to the property. An indefinite moratorium on petroleum operations within the limits of the marine zone of Belize was enacted"
  2. Carlsbad Caverns: "Currently, the most significant impact by the region's oil and gas development on the park is on the views from the park. Flaring has increased haze, limiting views of daytime vistas, and increased ambient light to impact views of the night sky."
  3. Ennedi Massif: "The reduction in the area proposed for inscription was triggered by the fact that an oil concession was granted in the area which was removed from the boundaries. While this means that no oil concessions overlap with the boundaries of the site as inscribed, .... Future oil operations in the vicinity of the site may have impacts on the site's integrity and values"
  4. Gros Morne: "Potential petroleum exploration activity in the vicinity of Gros Morne remains a possibility and would be of major consequence to the property’s exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity if it were to go ahead. ... While there is currently no opportunity to bid for licenses offshore directly adjacent to Gros Morne, there is no mechanism in place to prevent the bid system from re-opening this area in the future."
  5. Manú NP: "Oil and gas exploration and extraction is occurring south of the site. The Camisea gas field, one of the largest energy projects in Peru, is located in a remote area in the immediate vicinity of the site. Interest in a possible expansion despite National Park and World Heritage Site status has been repeatedly expressed which would carry significant risks to the site and the indigenous populations that inhabit it."
  6. Selous Game Reserve: "To this day, there appears to be a lack of clarity in terms of mineral exploration and exploitation in the property and a major overlap between the game reserve and exploration and extraction licenses becomes obvious from publicly accessible cadasters." 
  7. Tubbataha Reefs: "There is continued interest in the Philippines to explore for oil/gas in the Sulu Sea. However, exploration is forbidden within the Marine Park and buffer zone."
  8. Waterton Glacier: "These actions [The Province of British Columbia banned oil and gas and mining in most of the Canadian Flathead Valley in 2010 (British Columbia, Province of and State of Montana, 2010); North Fork Watershed Protection Act (2014)] have reduced a major threat of fragmentation in the lands connecting the World Heritage site with other montane habitats along the Rocky Mountains"

Based on news reports and small remarks in official documents, there are more candidate sites for this connection. Being cultural sites, however, they seem to be under less scrutiny than natural WHS. Examples are: Mesa Verde (Oil and gas production in southwest Colorado), Lamu ("the proposed port and cruise ship berth, and oil exploration"), and Ahwar of Southern Iraq ("clarification and regulation measures need to be put in place in buffer zones where potential oil extraction activities could constitute").

Possible impact

The possible impact of the threats is surprisingly variable:

  • wildlife cannot roam as freely anymore to buffer areas
  • earthquakes
  • spoilt views
  • contaminated air and water supply
  • social unrest
  • oil spills that harm marine and coastal biodiversity (although these seem to happen more after shipping accidents)

Do you know of any other WHS that are Threatened by Oil and Gas Exploration?

Els - 7 August 2022

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Els Slots 7 August 2022

Good find, that WWF report, Solivagant! I am checking them with the IUCN Outlook 2020. If a site is in there, at least the risk is still there and I will add them to the connection.

There is already a difference between "Current" and "Potential" - Some sites have good legal protection now (Belize Barrier Reef), but this can be overturned quickly when a political situation changes.


Solivagant 7 August 2022

A "problem" with the Connection is how "real" or "active" does the possibility have to be. This WWF document from 2015 lists far more
http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/a_global_assessment_of_extractives_activity_within_natural_whsfinal_.pdf

And I noted that the Giants Causeway actually had a concession which overlapped the boundaries - but was cancelled.... https://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/2884/


Blog WHS website

Perfect Inscriptions

Jonathanfr asked a while ago on the Forum whether we could have a Connection called “Perfect inscriptions”. 'Perfect' meaning: a recommendation of inscription by the advisory body, then inscribed at the first attempt. I was afraid sites like this would be too common to justify a connection, but as we have all the data anyway (thanks to crawling through all available official documentation in the past by some community members) I crafted a query for it to see what the outcome would be.

The process

I queried our database on the data displayed on the site pages under “Site History”. To determine perfect status, I excluded sites that have either been Referred, Deferred, Rejected or got an Advisory Body Overruled in their history before Inscription. I did so too with sites that got a Conditional inscription, sites where an Incomplete dossier has been submitted and sites where the State Party had requested it to not be Examined (often a move to avert a negative conclusion).

I ended up with 790 of the current WHS where the nomination process can be seen as Perfect. That’s 68% of them all! The list includes major sites such as Machu Picchu and the Serengeti, but also Srebarna and Lednice-Valtice.

Trends by year

When we compare the number of Perfect inscriptions as a percentage of the Total inscribed in a year, it looks like this:

The perfect percentage is slowly and steadily decreasing, though not as much as I would have expected. 2010 seems to have been the year when the trend really broke. And 2018 had no perfect inscriptions at all!

We must keep in mind that the transparency around the WHC has increased a lot over the years. The AB evaluations in the early years were either non-present or brief. Also, with the increasing focus on substantiation (such as a thorough comparative analysis), both on the side of the AB’s and the State Parties in their nomination files, there is more material for debate.

The trendline of the total number of nominations with “issues” (Dismissed (=Referred, Deferred, Not inscribed), AB overruled) per year is as follows:

Here we also see that from 2010 on, the number of AB overrides has surpassed the number of regular dismissals.

It is interesting to note that the number of dismissals stays at a fairly similar level over the years. So could we conclude that the AB overrides are statistically justifiable corrections? Have the AB’s become more critical of what is offered to them and does the WHC revise that? Or can the WHC not accept that the average intrinsic quality of the potential sites goes down when the list expands?

Country differences

When we compare the WHS on this topic by country, Egypt stands out with a 100% perfect score among its 7 inscribed WHS. No other country with 5 or more sites inscribed does have such a good track record. Greece does well too (94%), as do The Netherlands (92%) and Bulgaria (90%).

Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria score particularly bad, with only 17% perfect each.

The full list by country can be found here, and the statistics of the major countries look like this:

ICOMOS versus IUCN

Finally, does it matter whether an evaluation has been written by ICOMOS or IUCN? Not so much: out of the total of 897 cultural inscriptions, ICOMOS was overruled by the WHC 106 times. 29 out of 257 mixed and natural inscriptions got lucky. That’s 12% versus 11%.

Els - 31 July 2022

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Jonathanfr 5 August 2022

Very good work, thanks!


Els Slots 31 July 2022

In the total list, I forgot to exclude the ones having "Requested by State Party to not be examined". Fixed that now - the total perfect ones is down from 812 to 790. Thanks winterkjm for reporting!


Els Slots 31 July 2022

On request, I've also added a link to the full list of countries and their perfect % (you'll find it above the table).


Blog Connections

Byzantine

While prepping for my upcoming trip to Greece, I updated the connections of the WHS I am about to visit as I always do. Common among the Greek WHS is a connection called Byzantine Empire and Civilization. At 57 sites, it’s long and most entries didn’t have an explanation. I added them and started wondering about what ‘Byzantine’ really means. It’s a term that is easily used, I think we all have an image in our mind of what Byzantine architecture (domed churches) or Byzantine mosaics and murals (lots of gold) look like. But which are the best and most typical examples?

Political Byzantine

The Byzantine Empire spanned about 11 centuries, governing constantly changing parts of South Eastern Europe and the Levant from Constantinople. So several WHS that derive their OUV from a different culture, ended up being part of the Byzantine Empire at some time. The Byzantines didn’t have much influence here. However, they might still be named in overhyped statements like “ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John”. Examples are Damascus (Umayyad), Ani (Armenian), and Valletta (Crusader Knights).

Byzantine architecture

One step up from political rule only, Byzantine fortifications seem to have been a reasonably common addition. They can be found at Dougga, Aleppo, and Crac des Chevaliers.

The most recognizable examples of Byzantine architecture are its Churches, with high domes and round arches. The most outstanding examples are named as the Chora Church and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, San Vitale in Ravenna, and St. Mark’s in Venice. I was surprised to see St. Mark’s here – but “…a centrally planned Byzantine model reflected the growing commercial presence of Venetian merchants in the imperial capital as well as Venice's political ties with Byzantium.”

Other notable examples are Hagios Demetrios and the Church of the Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki (the latter being “an archetypal structure of the late period with its exterior walls intricately decorated with complex brickwork patterns or with glazed ceramics”), Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai, the Brontochion Monastery in Mystras, and the churches of Daphni, Hossios Luckas and Nea Moni of Chios.

Byzantine art

Byzantine art is mainly expressed in frescoes, mosaics and icons. It was both religious and imperial, and often combined the two: portraits of Byzantine emperors can be found in churches next to images of Christ. Photo 2 shows Maximianus inside Daphni church, San Vitale in Ravenna includes important mosaics of Justinian and his empress, Theodora.

Impressive mosaic art of Byzantine origin can be found in Saint Catherine's Monastery, Umm er-Rasas (photo 3) and the church of Hagios Demetrios in Thessaloniki (“executed in a remarkably abstract style”).

Inspired by the Byzantines

The Churches of Moldavia and Echmiatsin were ‘only’ inspired by the Byzantines and probably shouldn’t be in this connection at all. However, some sources seem to consider all Christian monuments built between the 4th and 15th centuries in the wider region as Byzantine - no wonder it has produced such a long and diffused list of connections. Many later Eastern Orthodox churches (in Greece, Bulgaria, Russia, etc.) are influenced by the Byzantine tradition as well, and it is also visible in the legacy of Norman Sicily in Palermo

A final mention goes to the frescoes in the Sopoćani Monastery church. They represent the work of the best artists of that period who were unable to work in the territory of the Byzantine Empire (Constantinople at the time was in the hands of the Crusaders) and found refuge at the court of the Serbian king.

Sources used: Byzantine art, Byzantine architecture, various articles at Smarthistory, AB evaluations of the named WHS.

Els - 24 July 2022

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Kyle 24 July 2022

For readers who wish to compliment their visitor experience to Byzantine Sites I would recommend Guy Gavriel Kay's duology of novels "The Sarantine Mosaic" which is inspired by the time period/reign of Justinian and Theodora. The main character is a mosaicist.


Blog WHS website

WHS tracking apps

Personally, I spend much more time behind my laptop than on my phone, but I know that for many others it’s the other way around. I like apps that are very practical: maps.me (offline and very good at hiking trails), whatsapp, uber, even the flashlight! Another good use of an app can be to track where you’ve just been or what you’ve just seen (think of birding apps!). The list of WHS at 1154 items is long enough to warrant a tool that helps you to keep your records. We’ve discussed this subject before in a Forum post, but I think it’s time for an updated look at which apps exist that track your WHS count.

Which apps are available?

I found the following specialist apps:

In addition to these, generic country tracking apps exist. Of those, Nomadmania and VoyageX Pro also allow you to keep track of your visited WHS. Apps like Pin Traveler and Every Place seem to allow to place pins freely, but that would take much customization and I have not drawn them into the comparison.

How do they compare?

I compared the 7 ones mentioned above, by looking at their websites and at the actual app on an iPhone. I looked at Supported Operating systems, Online/offline use, the accuracy of WHS, availability (and accuracy) of TWHS, the use of Maps, whether they are up-to-date, User profiles and login, User-friendliness, Advertisements, and Cost.

Quickly it becomes clear that there is one basic requirement: the app has not much use when its WHS data isn’t up-to-date – so it has to keep up with each year’s new additions (and quickly, please!). And the count must be shown and be exactly correct.

Tripbucket (doesn’t seem to bother about multiple Struve sites or Beech forests, has its own list of 1530 “main” UNESCO sites & also doesn’t do a total count), My World Heritage Passport and VoyageX (both last updated 2019) do not even fulfill that requirement. So only 4 apps are left. 3 use the UNESCO-provided data set (items, texts, photos), whereas Nomadmania seems to use its own from its website. All 4 apps are free, only the first app displays a commercial link.

The 4 remaining apps compare as shown in the following table:

What could they add?

The list of future functionalities seems endless. A few examples:

  • Find visited sites in your photos (‘UNESCO World Heritage Sites’ app has it) – but what’s the use and does it work anyway for a Beech forest? It uses geotags stored with your camera photos, if you have them enabled, and matches with WHS within a radius of 10km. It's probably more of a cool feature for the app engineer than a user.

  • Show improved location data. We know the default UNESCO dataset of coordinates for WHS isn't flawless. In the Forum post: WHS Maps - the data we already have identified hundreds of such corrections and implemented them in the maps on this website.

  • Add Tentative Sites. Add a tickable list of TWHS and display them on maps. Nomadmania has, but their list is not up-to-date (and has the disadvantage anyway of not having WH-related maps in the app). As the Tentative Lists are particularly volatile, a constant update process needs to be in place instead of a quarterly or so release cycle of the app builder.

Do you use an app to track your WHS count? What functionalities would you like to see if we would create an app based on this website?

Els - 17 July 2022

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Shandos Cleaver 19 July 2022

We’ve used World Heritage about as long as we’ve used this site. The handiest feature is the Around Me list, which is easy for ticking off sites at the time of visit. Plus, as it’s offline, it’s good for re-reading up on a site on the way there, even without data.


Astraftis 18 July 2022

Ah, that's true! While World Heritage shows all beech forests, or St-Jacques sites, it seems it plainly renounces to Mediterranean rock art! But it is the only case. Perfectly understandable, as it would clog the map. In fact, I already experience lags when moving on a mp with no conflated points.

Unfortunately, at the moment I cannot even try the other apps: one requires a newer iOS version, and the other one is too heavy. This might also be downsides, even if I admit my iPhone 6s is becoming rather old fashioned.

Ah, last and least point: one thing I don't like of "my" app is that at different levels of zoom the map only shows collective markers, but I find this unpractical and unaesthetical.


Els Slots 18 July 2022

Thanks for your insight, Astraftis!

Regarding your questions:
- WHS Collect & WHS Collectors are the same (in the App store it's called WHS Collect, in the app itself WHS Collectors)
- With megalocations I meant the WHS with many sublocations, such as Rock art of the Mediterranean Basin. WHS Collect(ors) does show them (you can toggle the sublocations on and off), but I don't see them on the maps of the others.

Will update the table above.


Astraftis 17 July 2022

Is the third app in the list "UNESCO World Heritage Collect"? I could not find anything under "collectors", but this fits. And it looks as something I should give a try (notwithstanding memory issues, I need to change my phone...)!

I also don't understand what you mean by mega-location. Anyway, I am a rather fond user of the first app "World Heritage" and judging from recent updates it seems that it periodically corrects co-ordinates, maybe even beyond UNESCO's ones. One thing that for me is extremely important and necessary is that all locations are there, can be ticked separately and the difference between partially and completely ticked off sites is clear. Also I like the recent update which helps a lot visualising the site types and if they are on your list or wishlist. What you say about lists can be true, especially for something like pile dwellings, but overall it works given the search function. Another plus: its is in three languages (English, French, Spanish).

So I am very positive about it. But I also lack a lot the tentative sites, this would be the greatest addition, and I would accept them being updated only a couple of times per year. Specialised summary counts could be nice, but the glance I can get from the map is sufficient to me. The interaction with a map is of course the heart of any such app.


Els Slots 17 July 2022

I had a look at the MTP app (thanks, Wojciech) but it seems to be not available for download from where I live (NL, iPhone).


Wojciech Fedoruk 17 July 2022

The thing is worldheritagesite.org has the most accurate WHS data and even here information about new TWHS is sometimes posted with time lag. I admit Nomadmania app uses data mostly from here, so in most cases it should be accurate. There may be differences in countries that recently (i.e. during last 3-4 years) changed their T-list. However, coping is manual, so errors are inevitable.

Btw, there is also MTP app, I think they use official data from UNESCO sit.


Blog Countries

Top Tips for Eastern Canada

When you look at the Canadian WHS map, there is what looks like a convenient cluster of 10 WHS in the East. These were the goal of my June 2022 road trip. It took me 24 days and 8,679 km of driving across three time zones to cover them all. 11 community members did this before me, however probably not all within one trip. You can find my day-to-day itinerary here on the Forum. I had been to Western Canada before and found the East more varied and more liveable. Please find below my Top Tips for Travelling to Eastern Canada as a WH Traveller.

1. You cannot wing it

At least not when you want to be sure to see all WHS within a fixed amount of time. Especially now, when travel is just restarting after Covid, some resources are scarce. Newfoundland has a notorious shortage of rental cars, for example; I circumvented that issue by driving up from Montreal and booking the car 8 months beforehand. For the WHS locations that require a tour, I also reserved weeks before - although not all were fully booked when I got there. The ferries also need to be pre-booked to guarantee at least your date of departure. I also booked and often pre-paid all my hotels, which helped keep the costs down (I managed to keep the daily average of accommodations at 84 EUR).

2. Expect all kinds of weather

I had brought clothes for different types of weather and I used them all – layering up with a T-shirt, long-sleeved sweater and raincoat. Daily temperatures ranged between 4 and 27 degrees Celsius. It rained heavily and mostly all day for about 6 of the 24 days. But I also wore shorts for 10 days or so. Gloves would have been nice too for Mistaken Point, the Western Brook Pond Tour, and L’Anse Aux Meadows.

3. Newfoundland is worth a trip of its own

The large island of Newfoundland (the world's 16th biggest) was the undoubted highlight of the trip. It is sparsely populated with a variety of dramatic landscapes, Gros Morne NP standing out especially. On my way back from the Labrador Ferry towards Port aux Basques, I passed that park once again, this time in the late afternoon, and was so stunned by the view of the fjord in the distance I was tempted to add another half a star to my rating of the site. But other areas of the island are also excellent, such as the coast near Mistaken Point (including Witless Bay) and the Terra Nova National Park that you will drive through when crossing the island.

4. Get used to the Ferries

I made 4 separate ferry crossings with my rental car during this trip, doing both the Labrador Ferry (St. Barbe – Blanc Sablon, 1.5h) and North Sydney – Port aux Basques Ferry (7h) twice. As it was my first time taking a car on a ferry, I was a bit nervous about it but it turned out well. It’s all very organized and my “small” car always went in among the first ones in the deep caverns of the ships. The crossings do add significant cost to the journey however, the Labrador one cost 35.25 CAD (27 EUR) one-way, the one to Nova Scotia 179.53 CAD (136 EUR). For further reference, I wrote up the details on my Dutch website.

5. Landscapes before animals

The East has stunning landscapes. Gros Morne is outstanding, but also the Gaspé peninsula and the coastal areas of Joggins and Prince Edward Island (3rd photo) are exceptionally pretty. I was disappointed though by my mammal score: I encountered no Caribou on Newfoundland and only 5 Moose (near the roads in the early evening). I saw some red foxes and squirrels too, but that’s about it.

Els - 10 July 2022

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Jay T 10 July 2022

Great tips, and I agree, Newfoundland is well worth a trip on its own. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see much wildlife on this trip.


Blog WHS Visits

WHS #800: Red Bay

I did not ‘engineer’ my 800th visited World Heritage Site: my Canadian itinerary was already set before I decided to go to Tunisia first. With no ‘misses’ in between, the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station became my #800. The place does not sound as exciting as Okavango and Uluru for example, which were my #700 and #400 respectively. But in the end, I was happy with it as I found it an enjoyable site in a rather remote location.

If you look up on a map where this is located, you will see how remote and isolated it is. Labrador's first "big" town - with the beautiful name Happy Valley Goose Bay - has only 8,000 inhabitants and is 550 km away. Fortunately, Labrador is part of the province of Newfoundland & Labrador, so the province subsidizes a ferry that runs daily between the tip of Newfoundland (near L'Anse aux Meadows) and Blanc Sablon (an hour south of Red Bay). Ideal for the WH traveller.

I was a bit concerned about this ferry beforehand: it gets very bad reviews, the company has a terrible website and you can only reserve by phone.  On the spot, it turned out not to be too bad and both trips were right on time on a spacious ship. There was also a lot of freight traffic and a single tour bus on this 1.5-hour crossing.

The drive along the Labrador coast the next morning was beautiful. You see mountains, endless coniferous forests and fast-flowing rivers. There was even more snow here than in Newfoundland, also bordering the road (this was June 22!). The villages looked tough to live in, they reminded me of those in Greenland. On the Town of Red Bay Facebook page, an interesting glimpse into what it means to live there is given: volunteers are needed to shovel snow / professional snow blowing equipment is for rent. And remove your boats from the dock when the cruise ships are there! Surprisingly, Red Bay is on the itinerary of some of the large cruise lines. Their summer schedule for example shows the HAL Nieuw Statendam arriving, with 2666 passengers on board. Seven other cruise ships are expected between July and September 2022.

In town, the Visitor Center was closed but the Exhibition Center at the bottom of the street wasn’t: it features exhibits on the life of the Basque whalers here, who arrived with about a thousand men during the summer season. It was the start of whaling on an industrial scale and in 70 years the Basques depleted the waters.

I quickly moved on to the quay, where I joined the boat that brings tourists to Saddle Island every hour. There were only 3 other passengers. On Saddle Island you can take a one-hour walk along the archaeological sites. Because of the bird breeding season, part of the island was closed and we had to return via the same path. Fortunately the sites have signs with numbers next to them, otherwise, you would have walked right past them. The Basque remains mainly consist of ovens. There is also a cemetery. After being excavated, they have been covered with earth again. So at best you see an elevation in the ground. Even worse is the situation with the underwater finds: from the coast, you can stare at the water, where a few meters deeper (invisible) must lie a complete ship.

A few minute's drive outside the town of Red Bay (but still included in the core zone) lies the Boney Shore Walking Trail, a trail focused on whalebones. It lies high enough to have beautiful views over the bay again: there is an inland harbor and a seaside part. Islands protect the entrance, and the remains of buildings and ships can still be seen, but people haven’t lived there for a long time. The whalebones were a bit difficult to find at first – they are not on the beach and not on the path, but just in between. They look like stones, but their shapes still betray them.

Along the coast here you will also see many interesting water birds that are typical of this northern climate. I'm not good at recognizing them, but I think I've seen Common loon, Common eider, and Red-breasted merganser, among others.

To celebrate my 800th milestone, I ended my visit at the Whalers restaurant in Red Bay (the only restaurant in town). They have good Fish & Chips here, and I finished it off with a piece of Bakeapple (= cloudberry) Crumble pie!

Els - 3 July 2022

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Blog WHS Visits

WHS #798: Mistaken Point

Along with Red Bay in Labrador, Mistaken Point is the hardest-to-reach World Heritage Site of the 10 in Eastern Canada. Located in the far southeastern corner of the island of Newfoundland, it can only be visited with a prearranged tour. I reserved 4 weeks in advance by e-mail and was given a choice between two time slots on my preferred day. Fortunately, the tours rarely get cancelled ("about 5 times a year") as bad weather does not deter the Newfoundlanders, they are only called off when the waves are so high that they cover the fossils or it gets dangerous. The day before the visit, I drove from Deer Lake in the West to St. John's, the largest city in the East (which takes 6.5 hours). Then it's a further 2 hours to the South via the “Irish Loop”, a coastal road across the Avalon Peninsula past many villages of Irish origin.

12 people showed up for the 10.30 a.m. tour, all Canadians except me. We were then invited to follow our guides by car in convoy towards the starting point of the trail towards the fossils. Do they do it this way to discourage illegal entry? The entrance (just a rope across a path) and parking lot aren’t exactly hidden, but they don’t advertise it either. You could find the exact location on Google Maps of course but it is not signposted from the road. Also, when we parked our cars, we had to put a sign with the text “Tour” behind the windscreen: the police(?) apparently do check on illegal visitors.

Above the cliffs, a narrow strip of peat has been designated as a buffer zone, with a sign referring to the Ecological Reserve every few hundred meters. Besides tourists who go on a tour like this (about 1000 per year), local people with a special permit are also allowed to enter the area. They may hunt and pick berries there; the bakeapple (cloudberry) is popular for making jam.

The 3km trail is easy, and a wooden bridge was even recently built to help you across a little stream. It rained heavily at the start of our visit, but fortunately, the sky cleared when we got to the fossils. These are best seen on two flat, horizontal coastal rocks. You are allowed to walk on the rocks, as long as you take off your shoes and leave behind other items such as a backpack or hiking poles. They don’t hand out slippers or free socks anymore – instead, the trip confirmation e-mail said: “bring a spare pair of socks”! In the end, I didn’t even need them, as the rocks had dried up enough to stay dry with some clever positioning of your feet.

We were given laminated papers with examples of what the various fossils look like, and the guide pointed out the most important ones. Some look like leaves, or like the ferns you see in Joggins. However, they are all small organisms with no shells, bones, or other hard parts. Compared to Miguasha and Joggins, relatively few fossils have been removed here. This is probably because they were discovered so late (1967) – but still, until the 1980s the area was unprotected and 200-250 fossils have disappeared into museum collections. You can still see in a few places that a piece is missing. Sometimes also a boulder has fallen on top of them, you can see the damage. Erosion however is the main cause that more and more fossils are lost.

Visiting Mistaken Point will also introduce you to the charming Avalon Peninsula. It is recommended to drive the full Irish Loop (as mentioned above). There are gas stations along the way but hardly anywhere to buy food or drinks (so bring your own). There seem to be more amenities on the east side of the loop than on the western side. Not to be missed there as well is Witless Bay Ecological Reserve – home to hundreds of thousands of breeding seabirds at its islands. I joined a very satisfying 1.5-hour boat tour here and saw more common murres than I had ever seen together in my life, as well as loads of puffins and we had good views of both minke and humpback whales.

Els - 26 June 2022

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Blog WHS Visits

WHS #797: Gros Morne NP

Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park isn’t very well-known and doesn’t receive as many visitors - both among the general population and within our community - as comparable parks in the USA such as Olympic NP. When I visited in mid-June, there were usually only one or two cars at the viewpoints and trailheads parking lots. In 2018, it saw about 39,000 visitors. By comparison, Olympic NP counted 2.72 million….

The park has a large variety of landscapes, ranging from glaciers and fjords to freshwater lakes, tuckamore forest and coastal cliffs. I spent 2.5 days there: driving around while enjoying the views, hiking some of the trails, and doing the Western Brook Pond boat tour. From a logistical view, the park has a northern and a southern zone, separated by Bonne Bay. During my preparations, I enjoyed the lovingly detailed guidebook ‘Gros Morne National Park’ by Michael Burzynski.

In the southern zone, I did the Tablelands hike and the Green Gardens hike. Driving up there, Tablelands draws the attention right away: it’s a barren, brown mountain range among the surrounding forested ones. It looked stunning with the still remaining bits of snow and ice on its top and flanks. Its origins are fascinating too and it is an essential part of the OUV of this WHS: it is where deep ocean crust and the rocks of the earth's mantle lie exposed after having been uplifted through the action of plate tectonics. An easy, 4km return path with information panels gets you close. There is no ‘real’ soil here, only a few specialist plant species such as pitcher plants can survive.

The Green Gardens hike is a fine combination with Tablelands, as it has totally different scenery while still being only 5km or so away. This is a more strenuous hike (labeled ‘medium’, 9km return). You climb across a ridge and then descend towards the coast. Along the way a tuckamore forest provides shelter from the sun: these tuckamore trees are another signature feature of this park. They are spruce and fir trees that are stunted by the winds and winter weather, so they lean over to one side. The trail ends at a long stretch of coastal meadows, with views of sea stacks and fine areas for a picnic.

The northern zone is dissected by Highway 430, which is a nuisance as it comes with speeding trucks and other through traffic. I did a couple of short walks here, the Berry Head Pond trail (a loop around a lake) and Lobster Cove Head (with a lighthouse and more tuckamore trees). The main excursion here though is the Western Brook Pond Tour. This is the single most popular thing to do in the park: you need to pre-book weeks beforehand and when I arrived at the car park, 2 buses were just unloading their (elderly) passengers. It’s a 3km walk from the parking to the dock. The tour was a bit too cheesy for my taste and the boat very full, but the landscape again did not disappoint. Western Brook Pond is an inland or freshwater fjord since being cut off from the sea. I found the experience very similar to Norway’s Geiranger Fjord, with waterfalls, oddly shaped rocks and towering cliff walls (up to 700m high) along the route.

The park earned my 4 stars easily, but there were some disappointments as well. The main highway that cuts through it, as mentioned above. The park also lacks a certain wildness and sense of adventure, the visitor experience has been organized so well that it feels tamed down (there’s always a boardwalk to prevent wet feet). Also, Newfoundland is low in mammal wildlife and this park is no exception. There are some 400 native Caribou still roaming around and almost 10 times as many Moose, which were introduced from the mainland in the 19th century. I saw neither species during my stay here, although my start had been promising as at the Gros Morne mountain viewpoint, another traveller pointed out a bear moving about on a meadow high up. It could only be seen via binoculars.

Els - 19 June 2022

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Blog Connections

Critically endangered fauna species

I like reading mammal-watching trip reports and even sometimes the birding reports at Cloudbirders, although for the latter I still fail to see the fun in just going somewhere and ticking off large numbers of 'subjects' in one morning. Via one of those reports, I discovered that the iconic Mountain Gorilla isn’t critically endangered anymore. That made me have a second look at our connection Critically endangered fauna species, which hadn’t been updated much since 2010. I now did so, using the latest data from IUCN which can be found on their ‘Red List’ website

Positive changes

A critically endangered species according to IUCN is “facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild”. It is the highest at-risk status, just prior to “Extinct in the wild” and “Extinct”. 3,714 fauna species are currently on that list.

It turned out that a lot of species that we had in our connection are not critically endangered anymore. They include the Leatherback Sea Turtle, which can be found in Malpelo, Rio Platano, Guanacaste Sian Kaan, etc. The fates of the Blue Crane, Black-bearded Saki, Cone-billed Tanager, Mediterranean monk seal, Iberian Lynx, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Pygmy Hog, Bonin Flying Fox, Hawaiian Monk Seal, Dryas monkey, and Srilankan Rose butterfly all have improved over the past decade and have been removed from the connection.

Sometimes a subspecies is critically endangered, while the species it belongs to is not. Or the other way around. That is actually what happened to the Mountain gorilla: it was 'promoted' to the status of endangered, but the species Eastern gorilla still is critically endangered because the other subspecies (Eastern lowland gorilla) is too. I decided to leave subspecies where the species isn't critically endangered out of the connection to keep the consistency. 

New species

My observation is that the AB evaluation usually names a few, but not all, of the species, and then these are reiterated many times in all later IUCN sources (such as the IUCN Outlook). So, I did some searches the other way around – which species are Critically Endangered, and are they found in any of the WHS? Most of the species are located in very small distribution areas. I didn’t check all 3,000+ of them, I mostly did so based on their names. So, the Darien Stubfoot Toad must live in Darien NP and the Aldabra Banded Snail on Aldabra Atoll (and they do!).

I added the Great Hammerhead (which occurs in Shark Bay, but there must be more). And the wonderful Helmeted Hornbill, it must still be flying around somewhere in the Tropical Rainforests of Sumatra.

The locations to find the Hawksbill Turtle have been extended to include the Great Barrier Reef, Sian Ka'an, Tubbataha Reefs, and El Vizcaino. Black rhinos are also found in iSimangaliso, Selous, Mt. Kenya (and have recently been evacuated from Okavango). And there are some more sites with Eastern gorillas that hold the critically endangered subspecies Eastern lowland gorilla: Dja, Kahuzi-Biega, and Ivindo.

I haven’t been able to find a WHS to match (wild) Bactrian camel. Could it be Uvs Nuur? The North Atlantic Right Whale has a wide range, but the North Atlantic Ocean doesn’t seem to have a suitable coastal / marine WHS: Ibiza, Wadden Sea, the West Norwegian Fjords, and Ilulissat are all more coastal than oceanic. 

Random Trivia 

  • The WHS where you can find the most critically endangered fauna species is: Rainforests of the Atsinana (8 species of lemur).
  • Kahuzi-Biega has the species with the lowest number of known remaining specimens: the Mt. Kahuzi Climbing Mouse ("This species is only known from two specimens").
  • The Lord Howe Horn-headed Stick-insect (Lord Howe Island), New Caledonian Lorikeet (Lagoons of New Caledonia), Galapagos damsel (a fish) and Fernandina Giant Tortoise (both Galapagos) all got an additional indicator: Possibly extinct (which is even worse).

Have you ever encountered a critically endangered fauna species at a WHS?

Els - 12 June 2022

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Comments

Liam Hetherington 18 June 2022

Shandos - that's certainly what I understand from watching 'Octonauts' with my kids!


Shandos Cleaver 17 June 2022

The consensus is now that the Lord Howe Island stick insect is not extinct, but survived on the inhospitable Balls Pyramid: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/lord-howe-island-stick-insect-dna-spd


Jurre 12 June 2022

Just as it happens, there is an update in the media on the Fernandina Giant Tortoise. I put the link in the forum thread "WHS in the news".


Blog WH Travellers

Michael Ayers ... cycling to over 300 WHS

Remember that stunning photo of Burkhan Khaldun? Or that first review of Thimlich Ohinga? They were made by Michael Ayers, who has just finished his second world tour on a bicycle. A trip that took place between 2019 and 2022, where he visited 124 new Sites, bringing his total to over 300. For a total of 1,121 days, he visited one WHS every 8.6 days. Discounting the 317 days being inactive for Covid procedures, general travel disruptions, or convalescence, it was more like one every 6.2 days. He’s also a keen birder and managed to add 1,152 new species to his worldwide Life List. Meet Michael below, while he shares his experiences as a WH Traveller on a bicycle.

How do you decide on the itinerary for such a long tour?

I have always been a cartophile, and have continuously studied geography as a hobby, so for me working out the itinerary is almost as enjoyable as the travel itself. I have happily spent many hours looking at maps, deciding which parts of the world would be most compelling to visit. Technology has, of course, had an effect on that process, and for this tour I accomplished in days, what took weeks previously, which may, or may not, be a good thing. There are a few other considerations, specific to cycling, that also require attention when devising an itinerary. One of those involves trying to create a route where the cycling conditions would be at least tolerable for most of the time. This is becoming increasingly difficult as many parts of the world continue to downgrade their road networks by bringing them to “modern” standards. Another challenge is trying to ensure that you will always be in a particular region at its best time of the year, with regard to the summer/winter, or wet/dry seasons. For a very long tour, achieving that completely is a practical impossibility.

Do you especially target WHS that few other people have visited?

I don’t think I have ever said, “What is the most remote place I can go to?” But it would be dishonest for me to state that I didn’t receive a certain amount of satisfaction when visiting places that most mainstream tourists rarely get to see. It is also true that many remote WHSs have as their primary OUV the types of qualities that most interest me: beautiful forests, the ruins of ancient cities, rock art, interesting geology, and unique flora and fauna, for example. Additionally, when on a cycling tour that encompasses a large portion of a continent it is likely that any route you may come up with will take you fairly close to at least one remote Site, so why not adjust the route a little to permit a visit? Sites like Australian Fossil Mammal (Riversleigh) and Serra da Capivara, were examples of both of those factors for me.

Your trip coincided with the Covid-years of 2020-2021. What has been the impact on the trip?

I am sure that in the spring of 2020 people were wondering why I did not abandon the tour once the closures started occurring. As you might suspect, the decision whether, or not, to do that was more complex than it might have appeared. For me, the World2 Tour was an intermediate point in the process of permanently relocating my home from the USA to a much more distant part of the world. Therefore, in 2019 I let my old house go and put all of my belongings into a shipping container for storage. Had I decided to return home in March 2020, my first task would have been to find a new place to live, quite challenging considering that the US was, at the time, one of the worst places to be regarding Covid. Additionally, the country I was intending to move to had quickly closed its borders, which remained that way for over two years, so I could not go there. So the only realistic option was to keep moving as best as possible, until the circumstances improved.

The most depressing period was the first six-week “lite” lockdown I spent in Berlin, where every day I would cross a number of expected WHS visits off of my future plans, while realizing that I might never have another opportunity to make those visits (eventually I did get a few of those back, but usually at great expense.) After a while, I was able to move around to wherever was letting people in at the time, and I generally became numb to the continual disruptions and changes in plans. Those included, but were not limited to, two strict 14-day quarantines, several self-isolation periods, being denied boarding at airline check-in counters five times, being denied entry at an airport after disembarking for visa issues, and a total of 46 Covid tests (32 PCR/14 Antigen, costs between $0 and $160, for a total of $2,775,) all negative, of course.

What were the WHS during this trip that have impressed you most?

There were definitely many that presented their OUV very well, however, for me, the most memorable are those visits where all the important factors, including weather, lack of crowds, cycling conditions, and the characteristics of the Site itself, all came together perfectly to make for an extraordinary experience, and I will actually give you four examples:

Chacho Culture. There are some WHSs where having your own bicycle is a tremendous advantage, Angkor, for example. This Site was another, and once the tiresome dirt road between the highway and the Park entrance was behind me, everything was perfect. On a beautiful spring day, with only a few other visitors around, cycling along the loop road, with numerous exceptional ruins and rock art panels spaced out nicely along the way, was simply glorious.

Aasivissuit-Nipisat. This was a visit that could have gone wrong in so many ways. Flight on a small aircraft from Nuuk to Kangerlussuaq; reassembly of the bike at the airport; cycling to the end of the gravel road of unknown quality; spending the night there; cycling back the next morning; disassembling and repacking the bike at the airport; another small flight to Illulisat in the afternoon. Fortunately, everything worked perfectly. The weather was spectacular, I saw musk-ox, the scenery was incredible, and camping under the midnight Sun within sight of the Greenland Ice Sheet was an unforgettable experience.

Bwindi. The dirt road that climbs up the mountain to the Park was not as difficult as I expected, and the cool weather of Uganda got even more exhilarating as the altitude increased. Best of all, on the day of my tracking, when I was the only visitor present, the Gorillas chose to settle down for their day at a particularly convenient location. Additionally, to help restart tourism in late 2020, Uganda had temporarily reduced the tracking fee to $400, down from $700 (the only noteworthy covid-related discount I ever had.)  On my first long tour, at one point I found myself at the tracking base in Rwanda, but foolishly talked myself out of going to see the Gorillas, and I was very relieved to have finally been able to correct that major error.

Surtsey. If you had only asked me for only one Site, this would have been my choice, even though the actual visit was made by boat, not by bike. In addition to the uncommon-destination effect mentioned above, this was another case of both seemingly unlikely scheduling and weather coming through at the last minute to make a visit possible, with a destination that had long been a personal aspiration for me. I was very pleased to learn that a few other community members have been able to get there since then. The cost for that visit was 2.5 times what I told myself I would be willing to spend, but when the time came I found myself agreeing without hesitation, and I am so glad that I did, it was a near-perfect day!

Which were the WHS you visited (on this or the previous tour), which were the best for birding?

Not surprisingly, all of my recommendations will be Sites in the tropics. Most people will immediately think of rainforests. While there are always many great birds in that habitat, tropical forests are notoriously difficult places to see birds well, even for birders who are much more experienced than I am. Central Suriname turned out well for me this time, but Central Amazon was rather disappointing. I tend to prefer areas where the environment is a little more open. Pantanal was really excellent, as was Kakadu for the unique Australian birds. I was in Korea at exactly the wrong time of year for migratory birds on the mudflats, so I didn’t even try there. However, my personal favorites are the Sites on the East African savannas, Kenya Lakes, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro, for example. Not only are there many beautiful and unusual bird species there, but they are often much easier to see, even around the Lodges, or nearby towns and cities. The drawback is that you probably won’t be able to do that independently, but on the plus side there is always the chance that you might get eaten by a Leopard!

Your way of travelling also is a tribute to slow travel. Some people would go crazy about what happened to you when trying to visit the Rock Islands of Palau…

Slow travel is definitely the best travel. And if you are going to be slow, Palau is an excellent place for that. The country was my first destination after leaving my cursed stay on Guam [Michael had a serious cycling accident here, ed.], and I intended to be there for a while, to begin my rehab and, of course, enjoy the Rock Islands. After about two weeks, I was feeling mostly ready to organize my visit to the Site, but it was not going to be simple. Only relatively few tourists had made it back to Palau at the time, but all of the tour operators would only run tours with at least four people, so no one was going to the Islands any time soon. I had just started to look around for a more costly private tour, when another delay became apparent. The chief of Koror State, Ibedul Yutaka Gibbons, had just passed away while receiving medical treatment in Taiwan.

Palauan tradition required that there would be a period of mourning, with all official offices, services and many businesses on Koror closed until after the official funeral, and this included the Rock Islands. Apparently, this usually lasts for a few weeks, but this time it would be a little longer, to allow time for the Chief to be brought back from Taiwan, and no one could say for sure when everything would be open again. I was supportive of the idea of keeping up the tradition, especially since I learned that Chief Gibbons seemed to have been an admirable public servant, who was one of the officials who had previously stood up to the U.S. Navy by prohibiting nuclear warships from operating in Palauan waters. The local tourism industry was more distressed, however, since they had just started up again after being shut down for over eighteen months.

In the end, the closure lasted for about four weeks. The ferry I took from Koror to Peleliu Island actually passes right through the core zone of the Site, and it provided nice views, so in the worst case I probably would have counted that as a visit, but I still wanted a more proper experience. During my final days in the country the Site was open again, but bad weather prevented small boats from going there up until the very last day, right before my midnight flight out. Six weeks is a personal record for the length of time required to visit a Site, but I was definitely happy to finally see that beautiful WHS up close.

Finally, tells us what it is about dogs and bicycles?

Free-roaming dogs have been a contentious topic in the cycling community for decades. However, from experience, I can say that this is primarily a problem in the Americas, Europe, and a few other places, where dogs are more likely to be “purebred,” a situation that has caused many of them to go insane. In other parts of the world, the de-evolving mutts you are more likely to encounter are usually much less aggressive. It has long been my strategy when unfriendly dogs are around to simply try to outrun them, which usually works. One time when it didn’t was during the early weeks if this tour, as I was riding across the US state of New Mexico. For the first time in my life, one of those snarling beasts actually got its teeth briefly on my left ankle, drawing blood in the process.

A few days later, I was making my way uphill to get to the Taos Pueblo Site. The highway leading to the town of Taos is deficient in a typically American way, being too narrow for the amount of high-speed traffic it carries, so I was already feeling quite stressed. There is only one smaller road that covers the final few kilometers to the Pueblo and I was dismayed to see a sign there that read, “Walking Prohibited, Bicycling Prohibited.” Of course, I thought, “That’s outrageous!” and kept on riding to the Site, an act for which I was politely scolded by the Puebloan staff when I arrived. Later, I learned that that policy was enacted because the Puebloans in the area are worried that someone might get bitten by one of the mean feral dogs that live around that road. I wanted to say something like, “I’ve already had a dog bite in New Mexico, let me ride through!” but mainly I just thought that perhaps finding a nicer home for those dogs might be a better solution.

Els - 5 June 2022

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Comments

Michael Ayers 9 June 2022

Gracias, Esteban! I enjoyed cycling across Costa Rica (south>north) way back in 2008. :-)


Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (vantcj1) 7 June 2022

Really inspiring testimony. Definitely an amazing way to travel!


Michael Ayers 7 June 2022

Thanks, Astraftis! Good luck to you too. I'm looking forward to more of your reviews :-)


Astraftis 6 June 2022

Great! This is a real inspiration, and I love the slow-travel aspect of it. Good luck for everything! :-)


Michael Ayers 6 June 2022

Thanks, Jay & Kyle, I really appreciate your comments! All of the reviews and discussions that whs.org provides really make travel to the Sites much more efficient and enriching. :-)


Jay T 5 June 2022

I've enjoyed following Michael's travels; it's quite an impressive way to see the world!


Kyle Magnuson 5 June 2022

Impressive, we have incredible travellers here! An excellent read, safe travels in the future.


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