The State Party has continued to move forward in the drafting and approval of several regulations under the 1998 Special Law for Galapagos and the legal framework for activities in Galapagos is now almost complete. Despite these encouraging developments, the Special Law of Galapagos and its regulations were seriously challenged on two occasions early in 2004 by the tourism and fishing sectors. Fortunately, initial positive reactions to the demands of these sectors were overturned at a later date, preserving the integrity of the Special Law for Galapagos and of the hard won legal framework under which management decisions are made in Galapagos.
A UNESCO mission to the site was undertaken in June 2003 to follow-up on the evaluation of the United Nations Foundation – UNESCO project to control and eradicate invasive species in Galapagos. The evaluation was largely positive, but revealed weaknesses in quarantine and fund-raising aspects of the project. In addition, the evaluation highlighted the need to finance at least one more year of activities in order to bring a few eradication activities to completion. Invasive species remain the greatest threat to Galapagos biodiversity, and an effective quarantine system is critical to the longer-term conservation of Galapagos. Despite having received significant support from international organizations to help it design and establish an operational quarantine system, the State Party continues to encounter difficulties assuming the system’s basic operational costs, leading to continued risks of introduction of species harmful to both wildlife and humans. For example, 2 years ago, Dengue fever was reported in Galapagos for the first time.
Fund-raising for the endowment fund continues to be a challenge, as the actual endowment structure has not yet been created. This on-going difficulty relates partly to the requirement that the UNF endowment be linked to another endowment being created under the Global Environment Facility – United Nations Development Programme (GEF -UNDP) project. The Secretary General of the United Nations visited the Galapagos in early November 2003 and committed himself to supporting the fund-raising efforts. He has since appointed his senior adviser to design a UN fund-raising support strategy, who was to visit the Galapagos in May 2004. The UNDP will be working closely with him, and UNESCO will be providing its full support.
Additional funding is currently being sought to help complete the eradication components of the UNF-UNESCO project. Working closely with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service, this project has helped build for the first time in Galapagos, a region wide understanding of the threat of introduced species, leading to greater community participation in various project activities.
The Galapagos National Park Service made a formal request to the International Maritime Organization, supported by the Centre, to have the Galapagos Marine Reserve recognized as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). The IMO granted PSSA status to Galapagos in early April 2004. This status helps protect the islands and the marine waters surrounding it from traditional freedom of passage of international marine traffic.
The United Nations Foundation financed “Control and Eradication of Invasive Species” project managed by the Centre has been extended for an additional year. This project has helped increase local capacity and has led to a greater confidence among Galapagos institutions, notably the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service. The project has also helped sensitize Galapagos residents towards the importance of dealing with introduced species in Galapagos. With support from the World Heritage Fund, experts from the Charles Darwin Foundation travelled to Cocos Island World Heritage property in Costa Rica in February of 2004 to help develop an introduced species management strategy for that island.
Starting this year, the Galapagos Islands are also included in a new United Nations Foundation / Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation supported project managed by the Centre. This project is focussing on the establishment and conservation of a marine corridor in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Cocos Island World Heritage property in Costa Rica, Malpelo island National Park in Colombia, and Coiba Island National Park in Panama will also be participating in an effort to improve marine conservation and to support region wide cooperation.
IUCN notes that from 19 to 27 February, 2004 the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Island of Santa Cruz were held hostage by a group of 80 fishers, effectively closing down these institutions, thus stopping key management activities implemented by them.
The objective of the fishing community was to revoke the fishery quota previously established through a fully participatory process. This quota was established to maintain sustainable fisheries in areas previously delimited and to a level that does not jeopardize the integrity of the marine reserve. This unrest ceased after an agreement was signed by the Ministry of the Environment and fishing groups. The agreement endorsed all the demands from the fishers and also opened up the possibility of reviewing 10 articles of the Fishery Regulation adopted under the Special Law for Galapagos.
According to a number of conservation organizations and experts working in the islands this agreement does not respect the outcomes of the participatory process that defined fisheries management in the marine reserve under the Fishery Regulation for Galapagos. The agreement is also seen to be in direct conflict with the conservation objectives of the marine reserve and as a direct threat to the objectives defined under the Special Law for Galapagos. Furthermore, a number of NGOs and experts noted with serious concern that violence and civil unrest is used repeatedly as a tool to influence the management of the marine reserve towards a more commercial approach. A few days after the agreement with the fishers was signed the Minister of Environment of Ecuador resigned.
IUCN also noted that the situation is improving since the designation of the new Minister for Environment. However IUCN noted that, while the PSSA declaration by IMO is basically oriented to threats to international maritime traffic, it needs to be supported by strong measures at the national level as well. This is important as the last incident occurring in the Galapagos Island was associated with an oil spill in 2001 originated by a national vessel operating in Galapagos, and not associated with international maritime traffic.