July 9, 2008—
The island of Surtsey, found 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the southern coast of Iceland
, was formed by volcanic eruptions during the 1960s.
Named this week as a new World Heritage site, the island provides scientists with a unique laboratory to study the process of colonization by plant and animal life. Borne by ocean currents, the first seeds arrived in 1964. Molds, bacteria, and fungi arrived the following year. Plants and invertebrates are now relatively abundant, as are bird species—89 and counting.
Chosen by a committee of the UN's Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Heritage sites denote natural and cultural areas recognized for their universal value to humanity.
This week officials added 27 new sites to the UNESCO list of 878 areas (679 cultural, 174 natural) worthy of preservation and protection.
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Photograph by Pierre Vauthey/Corbis