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The Independent Travel

Some of the world's most spectacular eco tourism destinations were given World Heritage status by the United Nations last week. They include a critically endangered area of rainforest in Indonesia, the largest glacier anywhere outside Antarctica and a remote Scottish island.

Some of the world's most spectacular eco tourism destinations were given World Heritage status by the United Nations last week. They include a critically endangered area of rainforest in Indonesia, the largest glacier anywhere outside Antarctica and a remote Scottish island.

Unesco, the UN's cultural wing, approved the new sites at its annual meeting held in China. World heritage status obliges governments, under a 1972 UN convention, to ensure the long-term protection of the sites, and prevent any development that could destroy or damage them. The Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China are among the most prominent man-made attractions to enjoy this designation.

New members of this exclusive club include the 2.5-million hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. This area comprises three national parks - Gunung Leuser, Kerinci Seblat and Bukit Barisan Selatan.

The protected area, which is heavily targeted by loggers and poachers, is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, more than 200 different mammals and 580 types of bird. The two most endangered species to be found here are the Sumatran tiger and the Sumatran orang-utan.

"There is no question this is a significant and positive step," said Craig Bennett of Friends of the Earth. "Sumatra is a classic example of how mankind is causing species extinction."

The UN also approved its first Arctic site, the Ilulissat ice fjord, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Greenland. The ice fjord, on the western coast of the country, is 25 miles long and up to 4,000ft deep, and is permanently filled with ice calved from a glacier formed from Greenland's ice cap. The heritage area also includes two important sites of Eskimo pre-history.

But World Heritage status can also apply to sites closer to home. Unesco has doubled the existing designated area of St Kilda, extending its protective jurisdiction beyond its dramatic cliff formations to the waters that surround the Hebridean archipelago.

For more information, visit www.unesco.org

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