The State Party of Ecuador has submitted a report on 15 February 2006, noting progress achieved in the conservation and management of the islands. Key highlights are:
a) The Minister of the Environment, with support from the UNDP and the InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB), developed a transparent process for the selection of the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) director. A new director was selected in April 2006.
b) A new Galapagos National Park (GNP) management plan was adopted in April 2005. The plan promotes: “a shared vision for the archipelago and its management to maintain it as an ecological, socio-economic and environmentally sustainable system”.
c) Implementation of the management plan for the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) (approved in 1999 after a full participatory process) is well advanced. The Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) is also assessing the effectiveness of its management, control and patrolling activities within the 133,000 km2 GMR. Patrolling is to be reinforced as part of an agreement to be signed with the Navy.
d) The government prohibited long-line fishing in the GMR in May 2005. It also banned the export of shark fins at the national level in an effort to stem the illegal shark fishery in Galapagos. In parallel to these measures, the government has committed national funds, along with those of IADB, Conservation International and other donors, to support alternative economic options for the area’s fishers, including the development of fish catch processing and storing, in an effort to add value to the resource and to influence the tourism market, which imports fish from the continent.
e) Funding from IADB and GEF/UNDP has supported the establishment of the basic infrastructure for an Inspection and Quarantine System (SESA-SICGAL) for Galapagos in Quito and Guayaquil on the continent.
f) Italian Cooperation is supporting a capacity building project for the Galapagos National Institute (INGALA), responsible for planning and controlling key development activities in the islands, including migratory controls.
g) The Ministry of the Environment, with support of a Donors Roundtable, launched the Galapagos 2020 Initiative aiming to build a shared vision for Galapagos among key stakeholders involved in the conservation and management of the islands.
The State Party report, summarized above, provided background information for the UNESCO/IUCN Reactive Monitoring Mission to Galapagos.
Through a series of 33 meetings, the mission team had discussions with all key stakeholders in the islands, representing national and local authorities and institutions, elected officials, NGOs, other representatives of civil society and the private sector. Though progress has been achieved on several issues raised by the World Heritage Committee it was also very clear that there is fundamental shift taking place in Galapagos. This shift, further discussed below, is having important and negative impacts on conservation concerns, in particular:
a) Accelerated loss of ecological isolation.
The unique ecosystems of Galapagos have developed over millions of years due to their biological isolation from continental landmasses. Humans have, purposefully or accidentally, introduced nearly 1,500 recorded terrestrial animals and plant species, mostly in the past 40 years, and despite recent efforts, this process is accelerating. Little is known about the marine introductions. 33 flights a week now ferry people and goods between the mainland and two airports in Galapagos. Old and unsanitary cargo ships from Guayaquil transport all goods, including fresh foods, from the continent to 3 main ports in the islands. Private aircraft and ships also arrive in the islands from other points in Latin America (100 arrivals in 2004-2005), each representing a new introduction risk. This increasing traffic is creating a conveyor belt on which new species are arriving and dispersing within Galapagos. A panel of experts predicted the arrival of the West Nile Virus before 2010, unless full inspection and quarantine measures are strictly applied.
b) Unsustainable fishing effort
Despite extensive efforts by the GNPS and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) at establishing a managed fishery, the sea cucumber fishery is now effectively exhausted due to unsustainable and illegal harvests. The fishing community is now seeking alternative means of sustaining that income, and finding solutions is proving to be elusive. As a result, there continues to be a great pressure to fish illegally, either out of season, or for illegal species (mostly shark). According to estimated figures obtained from different sources by the mission team, it is not unreasonable to assume that up to 300,000 – 400,000 sharks were fished from Galapagos waters in 2005.
c) Limited institutional capacity and weak governance
Staff interviewed in the key institutions involved with conservation and management of the islands, GNPS, INGALA and SESA-SICGAL were dedicated and highly professional. However, a chronic lack of capacity due to limited resources, and very short tenures of leadership posts prevent these institutions from effectively fulfilling their mandates.
At the time of writing this report, a director for the GNPS had just been selected, following a lengthy, rigorous and transparent process. This is a positive development and expectations are high that the appointee will continue in her position after the national elections in October. GNPS staff numbers are inadequate to deal with management demands (e.g. marine reserve patrolling alone is 40% understaffed). The GNPS has been accumulating responsibilities under the Special Law for Galapagos and its regulations, yet at the same time it has been losing resources.
Though INGALA (eight directors since 1998) is legally mandated to act as the regional planning agency in Galapagos, it has not been able to move beyond focusing on its own capacity building and on producing consensual planning documents that remain to be implemented. It appears to have little ability to ensure that its plans be respected, pointing to a possible legislative gap. Individual municipal governments are taking unilateral development decisions that are negative in terms of conservation and sustainable development, with no apparent objections from INGALA. Though INGALA has begun a comprehensive process to identify illegal immigrants, the mission team was not made aware of any actions being planned to reverse their continuing arrival. As a result, immigration continues with impunity. Though INGALA has a Specialized Committee for Institutional Coordination, with the mandate to ensure that all institutions in Galapagos are working towards a common vision, this Committee has never met.
SESA-SICGAL (6 directors since 2001, when it was formally created), is mandated to prevent arrivals of alien species and to identify/eradicate new arrivals before they are established. It is a professional agency staffed with qualified and dedicated technicians. However, existing infrastructure and available human and financial resources are very limited and cannot begin to address the increasing demands associated with the rapidly growing volumes of people and cargo, nor with the projected opening of new points of access to the islands, which in itself is a grave cause for concern. Furthermore, the infrastructure existing in Guayaquil is not fully operational, making it difficult to inspect and control all vessels loading cargo at this port. These same vessels are very poorly suited and are themselves an important risk in terms of introducing alien species to Galapagos. Marine alien species are not being considered, and hulls of ships (both cargo and recreational vessels) are not being inspected. Though obliged to do so by law, aircraft do not fumigate passenger cabins nor cargo holds, the latter having been identified by scientists as the most likely entry route of West Nile Virus infected mosquitoes. There is no capacity to react to the discovery of newly introduced species before these have a chance to establish themselves and propagate.
Whilst all national institutions represented in the islands suffer from instability and lack of power, the local political structures governing the islands (municipal and provincial governments, local representatives to the national assembly) are stable and are taking the initiative in promoting new development projects which are often in flagrant contradiction to the Special Law for Galapagos. One municipality has declared itself as the “Sports Fishing Capital of the World”, sponsoring sports fishing events on a regular basis, despite the current illegality of this activity. One municipality is building a new airport terminal, despite the fact that no commercial flights currently have the authorization to land there.
d) High immigration rate:
Despite the fact that specific regulations to control human migration to the islands have been passed under the Special Law for Galapagos, these are not enforced. As a result migration contributes substantially to population growth rates, currently estimated at up to 6.9%. The current population of Galapagos is about 27,000 people (18,000 in 1998), of which up to 5,000 may be illegal.
The high level of migration increases the demands for imported products (food and non-food) to the islands, which in turn increases the risk of introduction of invasive alien species.
e) Delay in the full application of the special law for Galapagos:
The Special Law for Galapagos, approved in 1998, provides the legal framework against which productive activities in Galapagos are to be regulated. It is founded on the need to maintain the ecological isolation of the islands and relies heavily on the precautionary principle (article 2, paragraph 2). While a number of general and specific regulations under the law have been adopted there is a serious gap associated with those regulations relating to tourism. This absence, combined with the promotion of illegal activities such as sport fishing and the increasing visitation of large boats, contribute to growing frustrations on behalf of many sectors, in particular the fishing sector, as they observe outsiders positioning themselves to dominate future tourism opportunities which they have been led to believe would be reserved for them. Educational reform for Galapagos is called for under the law – it would result in a curriculum with a strong Galapagos component, including environmental and conservation issues. This reform is considered critical by many in the effort to develop a local island culture that will respond positively to long-term conservation matters. This reform remains to be implemented.
Those regulations that have been passed (e.g. immigration, fishing) are not effectively implemented, and will likely not be until the capacity issue is dealt with.
Tourism is by far the main economic driver for Galapagos, and as a result, either directly or indirectly, through economic multiplier effects, is the main driver for illegal migration.
The traditional live aboard cruise ship model of tourism in Galapagos has had relatively little direct impact on the site’s state of conservation, though real threats exist, particularly in regards to unintentional shifting of insect, plant and even bird species from island to island. However, the mission team received several reports that cruise ships were a significant driver of illegal migration, through short term hiring practices for cheap labour from the continent.
There is increasing emphasis on locally based tourism, whereby more benefits from the more than 120,000 tourists who visit the islands (2005) would be captured by local residents. Though attractive in principle, such initiatives threaten to open up new economic sectors that, if poorly circumscribed by weak immigration and regional planning laws will, as is the case for cruise ship tourism, further drive the demand for cheap labour from the continent, and result in unsound growth patterns with no end in sight.
g) Economic development model
Galapagos is fundamentally changing from being an ecologically isolated national park supporting a small human population not participating in the globalized economy, to becoming a centre of international commercial interest attracting capital and migrants at an accelerating rate. Some of the evidence includes:
a) Population growth rate of up to 6.9% (half of which is driven by illegal immigration);
b) Up to 20% of residents are illegal migrants;
c) 500 passenger cruise ships now sailing in the islands (previous 90 passenger limit);
d) Large international cruise ship companies now operating subsidiaries in Galapagos
e) Construction boom in hotels ;
f) Internet sales for building lots in Galapagos directed at international markets;
g) Galapagos illegally declared “International Sports Fishing Capital of the World”;
h) Internet sports fishing packages overtly offered for Galapagos.;
i) Tourist numbers growing by 12% per year;
j) 33 commercial flights per week ;
k) Construction of modern airport terminal in one town, even though no commercial flights currently authorized to fly there;
l) Speculation driving coastal property prices up;
m) Ease of access to global seafood markets resulting in the rapid commercial exhaustion of high value species, legal and illegal.
Galapagos is shifting into an economic development model that is fundamentally at odds with long term conservation and sustainable development interests. Various government subsidies encourage this model (cheap fuel, electricity, transport). As has been demonstrated in all island ecosystems, if human presence and activities cannot be successfully decoupled from the process of introduction of alien species, the end result is a massive loss of native and endemic biodiversity.
i) Vision for Galapagos
The World Heritage Committee, in its Decision 29 COM 7B.29, requested that UNESCO work with the State Party to develop a practical, consensus based long term vision for Galapagos. The State Party has initiated such a process, entitled “Vision 2020”. Although commendable, it remains restricted in scope, as it is mostly rooted at senior ministry of environment levels, with some participation from the bi- and multilateral development community. Galapagos stakeholders have limited awareness of this important initiative and as a consequence, are not engaged with it. Until local stakeholders become fully engaged in the vision process, it will not enjoy support from Galapagos based stakeholders necessary to transform the vision into reality. There is also concern that, following projected national elections later in 2006, the momentum behind this initiative may be lost.