Satellites to focus on UNESCO World Heritage sites

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Director-General Kochiro Matsuura and ESA Director-General Antonio Rodot launched the Open Initiative partnership on Wednesday 18 June. The intention is to have other space agencies progressively join the partnership, and help developing nations monitor World Heritage sites on their territories more effectively.

ESA and UNESCO are already co-operating in a joint project called BeGo (Build Environment for Gorilla) to use satellite data to map remote mountain parks in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These parks are either World Heritage sites or candidate sites, making up the last refuge of the less than 600 mountain gorillas still alive. But human encroachment on the parks in search of fuel, farmland and hunting threatens the gorillas' survival.

From the Great Barrier Reef to Stonehenge, there are 730 different sites on UNESCO's World Heritage list 563 of them cultural, 144 natural and 23 both. UNESCO considers 33 of them currently under threat. The idea of the Open Initiative is that data from space will be used to monitor these sites, alerting authorities to land use changes that could place the sites in danger. Following ESA's agreement with UNESCO NASA is near to following suit and there have also been requests to join the Open Initiative from the Indian, Japanese, Canadian and Brazilian space agencies.

Observing the Earth: to understand, secure, and benefit

The morning before the signing took place, the ESA stand at Le Bourget hosted a special session on 'Observing the Earth Why is it important?'. Split into three sections, the session highlighted how satellite images could be used to understand and secure our planet, as well as benefit the lives of our people.

David Llewellyn-Jones, of the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester, and Herbert Fischer of University Karlsruhe in Germany spoke on the first th

Contact: Frdric Le Gall
European Space Agency

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