UNESCO's top world heritage list may have a new entrant as Ttirty-two natural wonders and cultural treasures including the remote Bikini Atoll in the Pacific are competing to join it.
The sites are nominated to join 890 already on the United Nations' cultural body's list of the world's top spots, with three new candidates, including two that are specks in the Pacific: the Marshall Islands and Kiribati.
AdvertisementThe Marshall Islands include the Bikini Atoll, which were evacuated in 1946 while the United States carried out nuclear weapons tests.
Islanders in the region were touched by fallout from the tests and the ground of Bikini was tainted by radiation, causing illnesses among its inhabitants and leading to US compensation in the 1990s.
Now more than half a century after the mushroom clouds erupted, the ring-shaped coral archipelago of white sand and palms has become a cherished destination for divers who explore shipwrecks off its shore.
The UNESCO World Heritage stamp is a valuable asset for countries since it boosts tourism -- a strong incentive for a remote place like Bikini, whose visitor activities were hit hard last year by tough economic conditions.
Another hopeful in the race for world honours is Tajikistan, whose dramatic snow-capped Pamir mountain range is among six sites vying for recognition as natural heritage treasures.
China, meanwhile, is seeking recognition for its mountainous southeastern Danxia beauty spot which it says offers "outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation and natural beauty."
Britain would like a place on the list for a countryside area around the former house of the naturalist Charles Darwin, said to have fed the development of his groundbreaking theories of evolution.
The heritage of colonial history also rears its head, with former penal sites in Australia and the Fort Jesus slave depot in the port city of Mombasa, Kenya, also in the running.
Iran is presenting the historic bazaars of its northern city of Tabriz.
Among contenders for Europe are Amsterdam's picturesque canals and prehistoric dinosaur sites in Spain and Portugal.
A site can be pulled from the list, however, if later urban developments threaten its heritage value -- as was the case with the German city of Dresden last year after a traffic bridge was built near the old centre.
The committee is this year expected to consider the case of the Serengeti animal reserve in Tanzania, where a motorway is planned in 2012.
The organisation's judges world heritage spots based on a 1972 convention on cultural conservation. Its World Heritage Committee meets in Brasilia from July 25 to August 3 to assess the entries.
At its meeting it is also due to review the conservation of 31 sites on its endangered heritage list.
It "may decide to add to that list new properties whose preservation requires special attention," UNESCO said in a statement.
These may include the delicate ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, which were named the first world heritage site in 1978 but have been identified as a site where invasive species and tourism are taking a toll.
The danger list features sites "threatened by a variety of problems such as pollution, urban development, poorly managed mass tourism, wars, and natural disasters."