On 3 March 2011, the State Party submitted a comprehensive report on the state of conservation of the property. The Galapagos Islands were removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger at the World Heritage Committee’s 34th session (Brasilia, 2010) and the State Party was requested to focus its efforts on three key issues : i) completing the biosecurity chain of inspection and control for invasive species, ii) developing and implementing a clear tourism strategy to control visitation levels, and iii) strengthening the Galapagos National Park Service’s capacity to deal effectively with challenges to its mandate (Decision 34 COM 7A.15). The State Party’s progress addressing these three issues, as well as the recommendations of the 2010 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission, is reported below.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall their view, expressed at the World Heritage Committee’s 34th session (Brasilia, 2010), that the property remains in potential danger of losing the values for which it was inscribed on the World Heritage List due to the ongoing breakdown of its ecological isolation and unsustainable tourism development that facilitates the introduction of alien species which threaten species native to the Galapagos.
a) Completing of the biosecurity chain of inspection and control to address invasive species
The State Party reports that it intends to establish a single loading dock at Guayaquil on the continent by the end of 2012. Terms of Reference have also been issued for a pre-feasibility study to establish a single deepwater dock at Baltra to receive cargo from the continent, as recommended by the 2010 joint mission. The pre-feasibility study will also recommend an efficient distribution system of goods to the property’s other islands. The State Party notes that an improved dock facility and crane was opened in December 2010 on San Cristobal Island, that there are plans to develop a new dock on Isabela Island, and that it plans to improve the infrastructure of the four populated islands ports by 2013. The 7 cargo ships operating from Guayaquil and transporting cargo to the Galapagos will be subject to a number of new and more stringent biosecurity, inspection and maintenance regulations from 31 March 2011 onward.
The State Party also reports that the ‘Galapagos Inspection and Quarantine System’ (SICGAL by its Spanish acronym) is being restructured and will most likely result in the creation of a Biosecurity Agency, which would be operational by the end 2011 and should, in the State Party’s view, provide a more holistic approach to invasive species control. Moreover, Agrocalidad, the agency currently dealing with the implementation of SICGAL and the enforcement of the ‘Optimal System for Maritime Cargo Transportation to Galapagos’ (SOTMCG by its Spanish acronym), has been strengthened through the adoption of Resolutions N˚ 14 and N˚ 16, which establish disinfection procedures for cargo and passenger ships as well as aircraft, and grant Agrocalidad the mandate to undertake this work. Efforts are on going to control invasive species, including the Mediterranean fly, big headed ant, fire ants, African snail, feral goats, donkey and cattle, feral cats, and introduced rodents.
While the State Party has made some progress in implementing the 2010 mission recommendations as requested by World Heritage Committee Decision 34 COM 7A.15, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that a critical gap still remains in preventing the arrival of new species to the islands. They consider that the impacts of the reported dock facility developments on the biosecurity chain in the islands should have been assessed in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, before being undertaken. They consider that the nature of these developments requires clarification. In line with the recommendation of the most recent mission, they consider that new docks should not be constructed, whilst improvements to existing facilities should not lead to increases in the arrival of goods directly from the mainland. They consider that the development of transport between the islands should be linked with the development of a single shipping entry point at Baltra. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the State Party does not clarify whether it intends to replace the 7 aging and mal-adapted cargo ships serving the Galapagos, with new ships designed to facilitate the application of biosecurity measures, as urged in Decision 34 COM 7A.15. They consider that additional biosecurity regulations, while laudable, are unlikely to address this issue. The State Party also makes no mention of whether it will consider dismantling or permanently converting the Villamil air terminal to another use, as recommended by the 2010 mission in order to limit the number of entry points on the islands. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN further note that, ahead of the establishment of a new Biosecurity Agency, there is a need to institute a capacity building programme, including a focus on dogs trained in detecting organic matter, strengthen the budget and staff for inspections, and to apply internationally certified bio-security practices, including independent compliance audits.
b) Developing and implementing a clear tourism strategy to control visitation levels
The State Party reports that it is developing a tourism strategy for the property, in line with the 2010 mission recommendations and World Heritage Committee Decision 34 COM 7A.15. During the first Sustainable Tourism Summit held in September 2010, a ‘Declaration of Ecotourism as a model touristic development for Galapagos’ was signed, and guidelines, as well as pilot projects, are currently being developed to establish ecotourism public policies for the property. The number of visitors to the islands in 2010 was not expected to exceed the 173,420 visitors recorded in 2008 (as of 30 November 2010, 158,300 visitors had been recorded). The State Party also reports that while ‘artisanal experiential fishing’ has been fully regulated since 2009, these regulations were manipulated to license sports fishing. It intends to review these regulations to ensure that they do not allow sports fishing in the future, and to sanction boats carrying out sports fishing.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the State Party has made notable progress in initiating a tourism strategy for the Galapagos, and welcome the establishment of ecotourism as the standard tourism model for the property. However, they note that that the State Party has not considered limiting the number of visitors to the islands while the tourism strategy is being developed, as was requested by the World Heritage Committee. It is also unclear whether the above tourism strategy will include concrete mechanisms to discourage rapid and uncontrolled growth in visitation, such as imposing an upper limit to the number of Park entrance permits awarded annually, as recommended by the 2010 mission.
c) Strengthening the Galapagos National Park Service’s capacity to deal effectively with challenges to its mandate
The Director of the Park was replaced in June 2010. The State Party reports a number of activities, regulations and resolutions aimed at strengthening the Galapagos National Park Service’s capacity to deal effectively with the challenges to its mandate, some of which are described above. The Park Service has engaged in an in-depth management effectiveness assessment with the support of an international team of experts. The Galapagos Governing Council’s budget for 2011 is reported to be 30 million USD, with considerable emphasis on preventing the introduction of invasive species, immigration control, environmental management and territorial planning.