State of Conservation (SOC)
Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds
International Assistance granted to the property
Requests Approved: 0
Total Amount Ap proved: 0USD
August 1999: joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN monitoring mission
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Industrial salt production facility;
- One mile-long pier construction
Current conservation issues
Twenty-second session of the Committee – page 97 of Annex IV.
Twenty-third ordinary session of the Bureau – Chapter IV. 35
New information: Following the request of the World Heritage Committee and its Bureau and at the invitation of the Mexican authorities, a mission was carried out to the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino from 23 to 28 August 1999. The full report and the recommendations of the mission are contained in Information Document WHC-99/CONF.208/INF.6.
Analysis and Conclusion
Link to the decision
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.
Link to the decision
X.25 Whale Sanctuary of El Viscaino (Mexico)
The Committee recalled the reports from the twenty-third ordinary and the twenty-third extraordinary session of the Bureau on the state of conservation of this property.
The Committee noted that following its request and at the invitation of the Mexican authorities, a mission was carried out to the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino from 23 to 28 August 1999. The full report and the recommendations of the mission were presented in Information Document WHC-99/CONF.209/INF.20.
The Secretariat introduced the report and the main findings of the mission. The issues were found to be extremely complex and could certainly not be reduced to a concern about one species or event. In fact, the team specifically considered a variety of issues including the management structure, the integrity of the site, status of the whale population, salt production, sustainable use and tourism. The World Heritage area, composed of the two lagoons Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio, retains its quality and significance as a largely natural habitat and fulfils the criteria and conditions of integrity for which it was inscribed in 1993. The Committee was informed that the mission invited the Mexican Government to take fully into account the World Heritage values of the site when evaluating the proposed salt facility at San Ignacio. This evaluation would include not only the population of grey whales and other wildlife but also the integrity of the landscape and the ecosystem.
IUCN informed that it participated in the UNESCO mission and that the technical report is comprehensive and credible. IUCN supports the efforts of the Mexican Government in protecting the site, and in particular in relation to capacity building efforts and the involvement of local people and highlighted a number of specific recommendations in the report. IUCN indicated that the current salt production activities at Ojo de Liebre Lagoon do not impact the grey whale population. IUCN commented that should there be any change to the existing situation at this site, the position of IUCN would be reviewed.
The Delegate of Canada agreed with the conclusions of the mission and congratulated the Government of Mexico for its protection effort. He stated his concerns about potential damage to the site in the event of a new major industrial development and encouraged the State Party to take the World Heritage values fully into account, in particular concerning all measures taken to protect this World Heritage site.
The Delegate of Belgium noted the interest of the public and that the wider public should therefore be informed of the developments concerning this question.
The Chairperson noted the forward-looking decision and his confidence in the State Party to fully protect the site. At present, there are no concerns, as stated in the report. He informed the Committee that he himself had met with the representatives from the NGOs to listen to their views. The Chairperson ensured that the Committee will fully co-operate with the State Party and if any changes to the current state of conservation should occur, he would contact the relevant authorities.
The Delegate of Mexico thanked the Chairperson for his words. He expressed his gratitude to the World Heritage Committee and underlined the involvement of all interested parties. He quoted from the report: "The mission team was impressed by the present condition of the site as a whole and appreciated the ongoing efforts by local people, the staff of the Biosphere Reserve, Exportadora de Sal (ESSA) and governmental regulators to maintain and enhance the integrity of the site. In particular, the team was reassured about the conservation status of grey whales and wished to emphasize the importance of Mexico's demonstrated commitment to population monitoring, scientific research, and habitat protection for this flagship species of the World Heritage site." The Mexican Government endorsed the recommendations and informed the Committee that actions have been already taken, in particular with regard to the voluntary audit and the diversification of tourism. Finally, he emphasized that the Government of Mexico reaffirms its political will to maintain and enhance its co-operation with the World Heritage Committee to preserve the exceptional values of El Vizcaino.
Following these discussions the Committee adopted the following:
"The Committee took note of the report of the mission and the full set of recommendations as indicated in WHC-99/CONF.209/INF.20. The Committee noted that the World Heritage site under present circumstances is not in danger, and scientific data show that the whale population is not endangered and continues to increase. However, if any significant change to the present situation should occur, documented by appropriate evidence, the conclusion concerning the site's status under the World Heritage Convention should be promptly re-evaluated in co-operation and co-ordination with the State Party, and appropriate consideration should be given to this new information by all relevant Parties and the World Heritage Committee."
The Chairperson thanked the State Party for its collaboration and the Committee for the debate.
The Bureau may wish to transmit the above report to the Committee for examination:
“The Bureau takes note of the report of the mission and the recommendations as indicated in WHC-99/CONF.208/INF.6. The Bureau may wish to transmit these recommendations to the World Heritage Committee for consideration. The Bureau may wish to note that if any significant change to the present situation should occur, documented by appropriate evidence, the conclusion concerning the site’s status under the World Heritage Convention should be promptly re-evaluated in co-operation and co-ordination with the State Party, and appropriate consideration should be given to all relevant Parties and the World Heritage Committee.”
Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino
- Localised utilities
- Marine transport infrastructure
- Other Threats:
Decline in sea animals populations
The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).