The report requested by the World Heritage Committee (28 COM 15 B.31 paragraph 6) has not been received. The World Heritage Centre was in Galapagos from 14 to 21April 2005 at the invitation of the State Party. During the mission, meetings were held with representatives from several stakeholder groups (fishermen, conservation NGOs, tourism and education organizations) along with elected officials (provincial governor, provincial prefect, mayor). Further meetings were held in Quito with the President of Ecuador, Ministers of Tourism and of Environment, a member of congress from Galapagos and the roundtable of multi- and bilateral cooperation agencies working in the Galapagos.
Since January 2003, the State Party has appointed a succession of 12 Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) directors. During this same period, there have been four ministers of the Environment, to whom the GNPS director reports. These circumstances alone are cause for serious concern over the ability of the GNPS to properly carry out its functions. Compounding this situation, the GNPS budget was reduced in 2004, resulting in the loss of approximately 30% of its personnel, from 296 to 181, many of whom were highly experienced and long standing GNPS park wardens. Though well endowed with the infrastructure necessary to carry out the monitoring of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (two large and rapid open ocean patrol vessels, a light aircraft, and several smaller but fast coastal patrol vessels), the GNPS no longer has the staff required to use it effectively. Similarly, on-going invasive species eradication programmes, several of which received support from the UNF/UNESCO project, are at risk. Despite these trends, the quarantine system for the islands appears to have become more robust and is reporting to be functioning adequately.
The inability of the GNPS to monitor activities in the Galapagos Marine Reserve is leading to uncontrolled fisheries activities. IUCN and the Centre have received frequent reports of an increase in illegal shark finning activity, where sharks are captured, their fins removed and sold to the growing Asian shark fin soup market, and their carcasses dumped into the sea. Industrial tuna fishing fleets are once again reported to be penetrating into Galapagos waters after having been effectively excluded for the past several years thanks to the previously effective GNPS patrolling of the reserve.
The GNPS’s loss of local credibility as an effective management agency was exacerbated in February of 2005, when an illegal sports fishing derby was held in Galapagos. The derby involved 17 sports fishing vessels from Salinas, on the continental coast, and had the full patronage of local governments. Despite protests from the GNPS, which has the mandate to regulate such activities, the derby took place with impunity. Two of the fishing vessels have remained in Galapagos after having been granted licenses to operate in the islands by the Ecuadorian Merchant Marine authorities without the express consent of the GNPS, as is required under law. There is concern among the artisanal Galapagos fishing community that the sports fishing interests of the continental Ecuador will, by their illegal incursions into the islands, end up controlling this activity, which has until now been considered as a viable alternative to traditional fishing in the islands. They also consider the GNPS inaction in this matter as evidence of discrimination in their regard.
In spite of this critical situation, there is a growing willingness to overcome the difficulties in the islands among the various sectors. The tourism, fishing and agriculture sectors have begun working on establishing a stable supply of seafood and agricultural produce for the cruise ships, thus securing an important market for local producers.
The conservation sector in Galapagos has multiplied over the past four to five years. Where Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) was the only significant conservation organization in the islands until the late 1990’s, there are now over 12 national and international NGO’s and bi/multilateral agencies with permanent staff in the islands. The rapid growth in international support for Galapagos has led to confusion in some sectors as to the determination of conservation and development priorities in the islands. The State Party has recognized the contribution of this sector to Galapagos and has formally requested on-going support from the Secretary General of the UN and from the Inter American Development Bank (IADB). At the request of the Minister of the Environment in late 2004, the UNDP and the IADB developed recommendations on the process for hiring the GNPS director. These recommendations were presented to the Ministry of the Environment in November 2004 but have not yet been implemented.
The provision for the strict control of migration to the islands is established in the Special Law for Galapagos, and regulations have been long adopted under this Law. However, it appears that there is little effective control of migration due in part to a lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making. All sectors of Galapagos express concern over this issue, and it is one of the most critical components for the conservation and sustainable development of the islands. INGALA is the institute responsible for migratory control, but is reported to be weak. The government of Italy is embarking upon a US$3 million project to strengthen INGALA’s technical capacity.
There is a movement to introduce long line fishing, a practice that may have considerable impact on marine biodiversity. Long lining goes against the State Party's commitment under the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, developed under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species, which, with the World Heritage Convention, is one of the five global biodiversity conventions. Other stakeholders including the tourism sector have also articulated similar concerns.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are of the view that given the prevailing circumstances, a mission to the property should be invited in September/October 2005 to assess the conservation status of the property with view of assessing conditions that may lead to inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.