“South China Karst” World Natural Heritage

In January 2006, as filed by the Chinese government with the World Heritage Committee (WHC) of the UNESCO, the “South China Karst” began to apply for world natural heritage status. It is the first item of natural heritage which, as a whole and by serial nomination, applies for world status, and which comprises the most representative and most important Karst areas in the south of China. 

The “South China Karst” application, as planned, is to be carried out in several batches, and the first batch includes Shilin (the Stone Forest) of Yunnan Province, and Libo of Guizhou Province. Other areas will be nominated in next batches.

The WHC Evaluation for the Stone Forest
The “South China Karst” has exhibited Karst feature and landscape diversity that is unrivalled elsewhere in the world; and it includes elaborately selected sites that has well preserved and exhibited best examples of Karst features and landscapes, so it’s been proven to have outstanding universal values.

In the world, the “South China Karst” stands for the spectacular Karst sites from the humid tropical to the semihumid subtropical zones. The Stone Forest of Shilin County (Yunnan Province) has been considered the best natural phenomenon and yet the best reference of the same kind in the world.

The Stone Forest has included: the Naigu Stone Forest, which is mainly composed of dolomitic limestones; and the Shuoyishan Stone Forest which sprouts right from the bottom of the lake. Compared with other areas with Karst pinnacles, the Stone Forest has embodied much richer Karst pinnacle landforms, much higher diversity of landforms and colours, and all changes of these are subject to weather conditions and sunshine.

The Karst cones and towers of Libo County, Guizhou Province, are always referred to by the same kind of Karst landforms in the world, so they are typical and enticing topographical landscapes.

The Karst features and landscapes in both Shilin County and Libo County are worldwide references.

In Shilin County, the Stone Forest-which was formed in the Permian Period about 270 million years ago, has displayed the evolutionary features of the four geological ages as of the Permian Period.

While the exposed carbonatites in Libo County were formed in different geological ages, and through millions of years of erosion, they have become remarkable Karst peaks. And the Karst landforms of Libo County are mainly towering peaks, subsiding dolines, subsiding rivers and long subterranean rivers.

The IUCN Evaluation for the Stone Forest
The “South China Karst” area is 1,380 km long longitudinally, and 1,010 km latitudinally, covering over 500, 000 sq km. Relevant sites are mainly located in Yunnan Province, Guizhou Province, and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and some in Chongqing Municipality, Sichuan Province, Hubei Province and Guangdong Province. What is exhibited in the “South China Karst” areas is a series of Karst landforms-which were formed in the tropical/subtropical humid, semi-humid climates and geographical conditions.

The nominated sites have included examples that reflect the major geological features in this area. These features include carbonatite sedimentation till the Triassic Period (250 million years ago), and tectonic evolution following the Triassic Period-including three periods of tectonic evolution (about 2 million years ago, including the Quaternary Period). Due to few influence of the Ice Age, the history of the Karst landforms, either present or ancient, appears intact.

The “South China Karst” and its diversified landforms attribute to:
(1)-During the geological ages, the thick bed of limestones piled to form solid limestones, and the evolutions of the geological ages in turn made the limestones firm and solid foundation;
(2)-The uplifting in multi-period (including orogenetic movements of the Himalayas, and the latest round of uplifting of the Tibet Plateau) led to the folding and faulting of rocks-which had in turn caused the water-erosion to help shape the landforms people can see today.

The Stone Forest Karst Landforms of Shilin, Yunnan Province
This area is made up of the core area and the buffering zone. The core area includes “stone forest” that features tall limestone columns and peaks with deep and sharp erosive vestiges. The Stone Forest has been selected as a classical example of its kind among the “South China Karst” sites; and has demonstrated the evolutionary features of the Karst landforms that were formed in the Permian Period about 270 million years ago.         

According to the application documents and evidence offered by experts, it has been concluded that the Stone Forest of Shilin County is the best example of “stone forests” in the world, and has been considered a “mode site” of its kind; and it is distinctive because it has exhibited an evolutionary history of as long as 270 million years.

The Stone Forest has met two requirements for World Natural Heritage (there are altogether four, and any of them is met, a place can be inscribed into the World Heritage list)

Criteria VII: Natural heritages that have best natural phenomena or extraordinary natural beauty and aesthetic values;

Criteria VIII: Natural Heritages that are outstanding examples reflecting the evolutionary history of major ages of the earth, including records of life, important ongoing landform evolution and geological process, and vital topographic features or natural geographic features.