Decision : CONF 204 IV.B.35
Whale Sanctuary of El Viscaino (Mexico)
At its twenty-second extraordinary session, the Bureau recalled that during 1996-97 the State Party had established a Scientific Committee that set up stringent environmental conditions on the proponents of an industrial salt production facility, and successfully averted threats which the construction of that facility would have posed to the integrity of this site. The Bureau was informed that renewed consideration of the construction project was once again threatening the site and some conservation organisations had called for the designation of El Viscaino as a World Heritage site in Danger. IUCN understood that new settlements were occurring in the area and that increasing pollution and over-fishing were impacting on endangered and endemic species. There were indications of a decline in the populations of various marine mammals, shellfish, and sea turtles unique to the area. IUCN recommended a mission in 1999 to evaluate threats to the integrity of the site and assess whether or not this site should be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Bureau was informed that a report submitted by the State Party on 26 November 1998 indicated that the State Party did not consider the site to be in danger. A representative of the Mexican Environmental Agency (SEMARNAP) informed the Bureau that there were no indications of a decline in the populations of various mammals, shellfish or sea turtles in the area. He noted that the El Viscaino Lagoons were not in danger and that Mexico has a strong environmental legal framework that regulates any activities in the site. His Government continues to take actions to reinforce environmental regulations to preserve the marine resources of the site and that the reserve is included in the Global Environmental Fund (GEF) programme for ten Mexican priority conservation areas. In his view the grey whale population is recovering and has not been affected by the salt extraction. He stressed that his Government has not authorised any project to construct a new or extend the existing salt production facility. The International Scientific Committee established by SEMARNAP that, during 1997-98, had averted threats concerning the proposal to construct a salt production facility, will review the EIA as soon as it is completed. Hence, the Mexican Government will not authorise any proposal that would jeopardise the conservation of the site and that there was no reason to include the site in the List of World Heritage in Danger. The Bureau requested the Centre to transmit the new report submitted by the State Party on 26 November 1998 to IUCN for review. The Bureau was pleased to note that the State Party, upon receipt of IUCN’s comments on the report, would invite a mission to the site as soon as possible. The Bureau requested that the mission prepares an up-to-date state of conservation report on the site and submit it to the twenty-third session of the Committee in 1999.
The Bureau was informed that the Centre had transmitted the TOR to the Mexican authorities and that the Permanent Delegation of Mexico to UNESCO proposed, via its letter of 7 May 1999, a revised set of TOR and an invitation for the mission.
IUCN noted that a monitoring mission will be held to the site later this year and that the TOR for this mission have been discussed and agreed upon. IUCN sees this as essential as there is contradictory information in relation to the problems facing the area. IUCN noted the issues to be addressed adequately by the mission should include: (a) the scope and extent of projects associated with salt production and potential impacts on World Heritage values of the site; (b) the status of the Pacific grey whale population (CITES Appendix I); and (c) impacts of other activities, including new settlements, pollution and over-fishing on the site. Any conclusions to be drawn regarding the conservation status of the site should be based on scientific evidence and await the findings from this mission.
The Observer of Mexico reiterated the invitation by the Mexican authorities for the mission to the site and that the mission’s mandate should be the one agreed upon by the World Heritage Bureau in Kyoto. His full statement is included in Annex IV.
The Bureau thanked the Government of Mexico for the invitation to the Centre to carry out the mission to the Whale Sanctuary of El Viscaino in co-operation with IUCN. The Bureau reiterated its request expressed at its twenty-second extraordinary session, that the mission should prepare an up-to-date state of conservation report on the Whale Sanctuary of El Viscaino, and submit it to the twenty-third session of the Committee in 1999.