Decision : CONF 203 VIII.A.1
Inscription: East Rennell (Solomon Islands)
Property: East Rennell
Id. N°: 854
State Party: Solomon Islands
East Rennell is part of Rennell Island, the southernmost of the Solomon Islands group. Rennell, the largest raised coral atoll in the world, is 86 km long and 15 km wide and covers an area of 87,500ha. A major feature is Lake Tegano, which was the former lagoon on the atoll and is the largest lake in the insular Pacific (15,500ha). Rennell is mostly covered with dense forest with a canopy averaging 20m in height. East Rennell is of outstanding universal value under natural criterion (ii), demonstrating significant on-going ecological and biological processes and is an important site for the science of island biogeography. These processes relate to the role of East Rennell as a stepping-stone in the migration and evolution of species in the western Pacific and for speciation processes underway, especially with respect to the avifauna. Combined with the strong climatic effects of frequent cyclones, the site is a true natural laboratory for scientific study.
Following the Bureau's request at its twenty-second session concerning the application of cultural criteria, the Solomon Islands Government indicated that this would be further investigated. The Bureau had also sought further information on the development and implementation of a resource management plan bearing in mind that the land concerned is under customary ownership. The State Party advised that while a draft World Heritage Protection Bill is not yet ready to proceed through the legislative process, it has committed itself to the protection of any World Heritage site. The State Party pointed out that the rights of customary owners in customary law are acknowledged in the Constitution of the Solomon Islands and the Customs Recognition Act of 1995. The State Party also indicated that members of the East Rennell community have agreed to the concept of World Heritage Listing of their land and are working with the State Party and a facilitator provided by the New Zealand Government to prepare a resource management plan. IUCN reported that the document entitled "East Rennell Resource Management Objectives and Guidelines" had been provided and reviewed and was considered to be acceptable in meeting the requirements for World Heritage inscription, even though it may be some years before the final resource management plan is completed.
The Committee had a considerable debate on customary protection and agreed that customary management should be supported. It pointed out that while traditional protection and management mechanisms are provided for in the Operational Guidelines for cultural sites (par. 24 b(ii)), no similar provision exists for natural sites (par. 44 b (vi)) and that this item would be discussed under the agenda item "Operational Guidelines". A number of delegates welcomed the nomination and noted that a site protected by customary law is breaking new ground, and that the inclusion of this type of property is in line with the Global Strategy. Sites from other States Parties, which are under traditional management and customary law, may provide examples for general principles.
The Delegate of Thailand stated that although he had no doubt about the World Heritage values of the site, he could not support the nomination at this stage, as it did not comply with the requirements of the Operational Guidelines. He noted that customary land tenure does not automatically guarantee effective customary management and that there are no legislative provisions to protect the site from rapid changes such as tourism, which may affect it. He therefore dissociated himself from the Committee's decision.
The Committee inscribed the site under natural criterion (ii). The Committee recommended that the State Party should proceed with the preparation of the Resource Management Plan and the draft national World Heritage Protection Bill and that a mission be undertaken in three years time to assess progress made.
The Observer of the Solomon Islands thanked the Committee and stated that his office is constantly working on the conservation of the site and that customary protection often hinders development. He noted that a number of NGOs, including WWF, The Nature Conservancy and Greenpeace are working in the Solomon Islands to enhance environmental awareness and sustainable development. His Government finalized the Environmental Conservation Bill, which is a milestone in the conservation and shows the commitment to heritage protection. The Chairperson congratulated the Solomon Islands for the inscription of their first site on the World Heritage List.