A World Heritage site is a place of cultural or physical significance to the planet, as determined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
To be listed as a World Heritage site, a property must meet at least one of ten very strict criteria. Six of these criteria describe cultural values and four describe natural values.
Only exceptional places around the world are listed. These sites are held in trust for future generations and require host governments and communities to make a complete commitment to their protection for 'peoples of the world'.
The Naracoorte Caves were inscribed on the World Heritage list in December 1994 along with Riversleigh in Queensland. Together they form the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (AFMS).
The sites fulfill two of the four natural criteria for World Heritage status:
- To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features (Criterion 8).
- To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals (Criterion 9).
Listed fossil sites must also represent major stages of earth’s evolutionary history, significant ongoing geological processes and the evolution of life on earth, and be the best example of such a site.
There are 19 World Heritage sites in Australia including Uluru, Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef and Naracoorte's sister fossil site, Riversleigh in North Queensland. See a full listing of World Heritage sites.