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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Wrangel Island

Wrangel Island

The Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve comprises a group of two islands north of the Arctic Circle with a remarkable high diversity of plants and animals.

Wrangel Island and Herald Island lie in the High Arctic Tundra ecoregion, with a very dry and cold climate. They have a mountainous landscape, with valleys, lakes and rivers. Vegetation consists of tundra and steppe underlain with permafrost. The surrounding waters are also part of the designated area.

The islands were not glaciated during the last Ice Age, and subsequently served as a refuge for Pleistocene species that have not survived elseweher. Wrangel also is on the intersection of two major continental systems – Asia and North America -and has species from both.

Notable features include:

• northernmost Migratory bird destination

• northernmost marine mammal location (gray whales and dolphins)

• breeding habitat of Asia’s only Snow goose population

• the largest population of Pacific walrus with up to 100,000 animals congregating

• a breeding ground for polar bears (having the highest density of dens in the world),

• woolly mammoths survived on Wrangel Island until 1650 BC, the most recent survival of all known mammoth populations.

• remains of a palaeoeskimo site as well as several small deserted reindeer herder’s settlements

Herald Island is uninhabited, and Wrangel is home to a handful of rangers and scientists.

Map of Wrangel Island


  • Natural

Community Reviews

Sherry Ott, United States 20-Nov-16

One small step for man and one giant step for mankind is what danced in my head as I set foot on the Wrangel Island tundra and the earth beneath me moved. It was like walking on a sponge, soft and light; almost delicate feeling. However the tundra was anything but delicate. I had just set foot on an island that only a few hundred people have ever seen or walked on. A visit to Wrangel Island is truly a unique once in a lifetime experience.

In fact getting there is the hard part! This is the hard part. You need a special permit to be able to visit the island granted by the Russian authorities. This is not an easy process unless you know someone. However Heritage Expeditions run 3 cruises a summer (in August) to Wrangel Island on their polar vessel, the Spirit of Enderby.

While we visited, 3 Russian rangers came on board our Heritage Expeditions ship and stayed for 4 nights while we made our way around the island. They accompanied us on landings both for educational purposes and for safety purposes. They also showed us images of what life was like for them in the winter which was fascinating. Polar Bears get quite curious in the winter and many visited the ranger buildings quite often. I felt weird when we left them knowing that they had a long cold winter ahead.

Read more from Sherry Ott here.

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Site Info

Full name: Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve

Unesco ID: 1023

Inscribed: 2004

Type: Natural

Criteria: 9   10  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 2004 - Inscribed 
  • 2003 - Requested by State Party to not be examined  
  • 2001 - Requested by State Party to not be examined At Bureau Session


The site has 1 locations.

  • Wrangel Island


The site has 23 connections.


  • Whales: Feeding ground for the Gray whale
  • Bears: Polar bears
  • Mammal Migrations: El Vizcaino and Wrangel island are the northern and southern "ends" of the Grey whale migration
  • Icebergs
  • Seals: bearded seal
  • Tundra
  • Steppe: ... a mosaic of tundra and steppe types co-exist in quilt-like patterns (AB ev)
  • Mammoths: From carbon dating of bones found there it is considered the last pre-extinction refuge of Mammoths. See  Link


  • Arctic
  • Uninhabited islands: Except for ca. "27 full and part time staff". Presumed never inhabited.
  • Arctic Ocean
  • Formerly inhabited islands: The remains of early Paleo Eskimo camps are not thought to be evidence of permanent year round habitation. However, in 1926 the Soviet Union set up the village of Ushakovskoe with 60 transplanted peoples (mainly Chukchis) to boost its claim for sovereignty over this uninhabited island in the face of possible US and Canadian claims. With the loss of "Soviet" backing the village declined through the 1990s and in 1997 the majority of those remaining were transported to the mainland, though the village operated through to 2003 when it was formally closed (in time for its WHS inscription!) and those currently living on the island are considered transitory Nature Reserve employees rather than "permanent" residents  Link


  • Castaways/shipwrecked mariners: Several occasions. "In 1914, the survivors of (an) ill-equipped Canadian Arctic Expedition, were marooned there for nine months after their ship, the Karluk was crushed in the ice pack. The survivors were rescued.... after (the) Captain walked across the Chukshi Sea to Siberia to summon help" (from Wiki). An expedition of 5 people went to the island in Sep 1921 as "settlers" in an attempt to claim it for Canada. "Running out of provisions, 3 members tried in Jan 1923 to cross the Chukshi Sea to get help from Siberia - they were never seen again. The remaining man was incapacitated by scurvy and was cared for by Ada Blackjack, the Inuit cook, eventually dying in April 1923 leaving Ada alone until she was rescued in August when an organiser of the expedition arrived." (from Wiki) Ada lived on in Anchorage until 1983!
  • Neolithic age: Chertov Ovrag site
  • Once Claimed for the USA: "A party from the USRC Corwin landed on Wrangel Island on August 12, 1881, claimed the island for the United States and named it "New Columbia". The expedition, under the command of Calvin L. Hooper, was seeking the Jeannette and two missing whalers in addition to conducting general exploration. It included naturalist John Muir, who published the first description of Wrangel Island." In 1916 Tsarist Russia claimed the island and in 1924 the USSR established a base there.

Individual People

  • John Muir: (claimed the island for the United States in 1881)


  • Late Pleistocene: the latest separation of the island from the mainland took place about 10000 years ago.


World Heritage Process


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