An area in Southwest China that boasts fossils dating back as far as 530 million years has been included on the World Heritage List.
The Chengjiang Fossil Site was among 36 sites being considered for the list by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage Committee during its meeting from June 24 to July 6 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The natural area in Yuxi, Yunnan province has become the second site in China to be included on the protected list in three days, according to a statement released on Sunday by the city of Yuxi.
On Friday, the Site of Xanadu in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region was included as a cultural site.
Deviating from its practice of previous years, the committee decided to choose the cultural sites first and delay the vote on natural sites until yesterday.
"That one day was like a whole year for me," said Li Yunping, a member of the Chinese delegation at the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee. The delegation arrived in Russia on June 23.
"Sometimes I felt like my heart couldn't take any more," she said, as she took her heart medication outside the convention hall.
However, after an eight-year wait - for world-heritage status, Chengjiang has become China's first world heritage fossil site.
On July 1, 1984, a researcher found fossils of naraoia, a marine creature that lived 530 million years ago in Yuxi. In 1997, the provincial government made the 1,800 hectare site a nature reserve, and Premier Wen Jiabao issued instructions in 2004 to protect the site.
"The Chengjiang site is the most concentrated, best-preserved and the most bio-diverse evidence of the Cambrian explosion worldwide," said Chu Zhongzhi, deputy director of housing and urban-rural development department for Yunnan.
The Cambrian explosion refers to the relatively rapid appearance of most major animal categories around 530 million years ago.
"Since we started applying for world-heritage status, government departments have worked together to overcome any difficulties," Chu said. "Now the site is inscribed on the World Heritage List, the ninth natural site in China, making it a valuable experience for us."
Before 2004, the Chengjiang area was a major phosphorous base, with 76 million metric tons of phosphorous ore. But government shut down all the 14 mining sites in a single week.
Since 2006, authorities have invested 77.38 million yuan (US$12.18 million) to preserve the former mine sites.
According to reports on yunnan.cn, some animal fossils from Chengjiang have been smuggled out of China in the past 20 years, and in one case a naraoia fossil priced as high as 11,000 euros ($13,926) on the Internet. The report quoted local official Chen Ailin as saying great efforts had been taken to prevent smuggling.
"Now the Chengjiang site is China's first World Heritage Site of fossil, this has significance on the protection of all other fossil sites around China," said Wang Lixia, deputy director of the fossil expert committee's office under the Ministry of Land and Resources.
"As we know, fossils have scientific value. With the help of Unesco, I believe we can improve cross-border cooperation on scientific research on the Chengjiang fossils," she said. "The better cooperation will surely benefit other fossil sites by creating some new means of cooperation."
Under its first fossil regulation, passed in 2010 and enacted in 2011, China prohibits the removal of fossils from a protected region without permission from the Ministry of Land and Resources, and excavating fossils outside the regions without the permission provincial-level authorities.
China obtained the return of more than 5,000 fossils from Australia, the United States, Canada and Italy between 2008 and 2010, according to the ministry.