The Greater Blue Mountains Area is a World Heritage Site in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List at the 24th Session of the World Heritage Committee, held in Cairns from 27 November to 2 December 2000.
This area is one of rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep, inaccessible valleys and rivers and lakes teeming with life. The unique plants and animals that live in this natural place relate an extraordinary story of Australia's antiquity, its diversity of life. This is the story of the evolution of Australia's unique eucalypt vegetation and its associated communities, plants and animals.
The Greater Blue Mountains Area consists of 10,300 square kilometres of mostly forested landscape on a sandstone plateau 60 to 180 kilometres inland from central Sydney. The area includes vast expanses of wilderness and is equivalent in area to almost one third of Belgium, or twice the size of Brunei.
The area called Blue Mountains is based on the fact that when atmospheric temperature rise, the essential oil of Eucalyptus saligna evaporates and disperse in the air, then visible blue spectrum of sunlight propagates more than other colors. Therefore the reflected landscape from mountains seems bluish by human eyes.
The property, which includes eight protected areas in two blocks separated by a transportation and urban development corridor, is made up of seven outstanding national parks as well as the famous Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve. These are the Blue Mountains National Park, Wollemi National Park, Yengo National Park, Nattai National Park, Kanangra-Boyd National Park, Gardens of Stone National Park and Thirlmere Lakes National Park.
The area does not contain mountains in the conventional sense but is described as a deeply incised sandstone plateau rising from less than 100 metres above sea level to 1300 metres at the highest point. There are basalt outcrops on the higher ridges. This plateau is thought to have enabled the survival of a rich diversity of plant and animal life by providing a refuge from climatic changes during recent geological history. It is particularly noted for its wide and balanced representation of eucalypt habitats from wet and dry sclerophyll, mallee heathlands, as well as localised swamps, wetlands, and grassland. Ninety-one species of eucalypts (thirteen percent of the global total) occur in the Greater Blue Mountains Area. Twelve of these are believed to occur only in the Sydney sandstone region.
The area has been described as a natural laboratory for studying the evolution of the eucalypts. The largest area of high diversity of eucalypts on the continent is located in south-east Australia. The Greater Blue Mountains Area includes much of this eucalypt diversity.
As well as supporting such a significant proportion of the world's eucalypt species, the area provides examples of the range of structural adaptations of the eucalypts to Australian environments. These vary from tall forests at the margins of rainforest in the deep valleys, through open forests and woodlands, to shrublands of stunted mallees on the exposed tablelands.
In addition to its outstanding eucalypts, the Greater Blue Mountains Area also contains ancient, relict species of global significance. The most famous of these is the recently-discovered Wollemi pine, a "living fossil" dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. Thought to have been extinct for millions of years, the few surviving trees of this ancient species are known only from three small populations located in remote, inaccessible gorges within the area. The Wollemi pine is one of the world's rarest species.
More than 400 different kinds of animals live within the rugged gorges and tablelands of the Greater Blue Mountains Area. These include threatened or rare species of conservation significance, such as the Tiger Quoll, the koala, the Yellow-bellied Glider and the Long-nosed Potoroo as well as rare reptiles and amphibians including the Green and Golden Bell Frog and the Blue Mountain Water Skink.
The Greater Blue Mountains Area was unanimously listed as a World Heritage Area by UNESCO on 29 November 2000. It thus became the fourth area in New South Wales to be listed. The area totals roughly 10,000 square kilometres, including the Blue Mountains, Kanangra-Boyd, Wollemi, Gardens of Stone, Yengo, Nattai and Thirlmere Lakes National Parks, plus the Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve.
The reason why this site was chosen to be included on the World Heritage list is quoted below:
"Criteria (ii) and (iv): Australia’s eucalypt vegetation is worthy of recognition as of outstanding universal value, because of its adaptability and evolution in post-Gondwana isolation. The site contains a wide and balanced representation of eucalypt habitats from wet and dry sclerophyll, mallee heathlands, as well as localised swamps, wetlands, and grassland. 90 eucalypti tax (13% of the global total) and representation of all four groups of eucalypts occur. There is also a high level of endemism with 114 endemic taxa found in the area as well as 120 nationally rare and threatened plant tax. The site hosts several evolutionary relic species (Wollemia, Microstrobos, Acrophyllum) which have persisted in highly restricted micro sites."