State of Conservation
Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California
Factors affecting the property in 2017*
- Fishing/collecting aquatic resources
- Illegal activities
- Other Threats:
Serious concerns over the conservation status of two species, vaquita (porpoise species) and totoaba (marine fish)
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Serious concerns about the imminent extinction of an endemic porpoise species (vaquita) and over the conservation status of a marine fish (totoaba)
- Illegal fishing
International Assistance: requests for the property until 2017
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved : 0 USD
Missions to the property until 2017**
April 2017: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission
|2017||Report of the joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to Islands and Protected Areas of the ...|
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2017
On 1 March 2017, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property. A joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission visited the property from 9 to 15 April 2017. Both reports are available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1182/documents/. Furthermore, on 23 May 2017, additional information was provided by the State Party regarding scientific literature and reports on national programmes conducted from 2007 to 2016 at the property.
The State Party provides a comprehensive overview of various conservation and research programmes in different components of the property. With regards to the situation with the vaquita and totoaba, the State Party reports the following:
- The 2015 International Vaquita Marine Expedition estimated the population of the vaquita at about 59 individuals;
- On 15 April 2015 the 2015-2017 Integral Strategy to Protect Vaquita was launched, which temporarily suspended all commercial fishing using gillnets and/or longline by small or artisanal vessels operating in the Northern Gulf of California for a period of two years and established economic compensation programmes for affected fishermen. The enforcement of the suspension is a coordinated effort of the Office of Federal Attorney for Environment of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries, and the Mexican Navy;
- The Strategy also launched an inter-institutional programme for removal of derelict fishing gear in the Norther Gulf of California. Research on alternative fishing gear has commenced; however, one of the initially developed alternative lightweight trawls was considered commercially unviable and therefore development of alternative solutions has continued;
- Enforcement efforts have been increased, including through the use of an unmanned aircraft system with the assistance of the Navy which enabled an increase of surveillance efforts.
During its visit, the mission received confirmation that the temporary ban on gillnet use has been extended until 31 May 2017.
Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2017
The measures undertaken by the State Party to prevent the extinction of the critically endangered vaquita should be noted with appreciation, including the highest commitment of the various institutions, particularly the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), to the conservation of the property. The unprecedented cooperation between different institutions, including the Mexican Navy, aimed at coordination of efforts in combatting illegal fishing should be welcomed. However, despite the commendable efforts undertaken by the State Party, the extinction of the vaquita is imminent. On the one hand, it needs to be underlined that combatting illegal trafficking of totoaba swim bladder requires international cooperation between all countries of the source-transit-destination chain, including efforts to reduce the demand in China for this illegally traded product. Therefore, it is recommended that the Committee reiterate its call to the States Parties, which are transit and destination countries for this illegal trade, to continue and increase their cooperation with the State Party of Mexico in addressing the issue of illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders, in particular through the implementation of the recommendations made by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). On the other hand, a number of additional measures need to be urgently undertaken by the State Party, including establishment of a permanent ban on the use, sale, manufacture and possession of gillnets within the Vaquita Refuge and the current Gillnet and Longline Suspension Zone where a temporary ban has been extended until 31 May 2017 and development of alternative gear for legal fisheries which would not cause bycatch of vaquita, other marine mammal species, sharks or turtles. While efforts to combat illegal fishing have been unprecedented in their scale and institutional involvement and cooperation, it should be noted that the mission concluded that illegal fishing is an ongoing problem. Therefore, the effectiveness of the ban can only be guaranteed if its enforcement continues and is strengthened further, including by strict application of penalties and prosecutions in cases where illegal activities have been confirmed.
The mission considers that the property remains in an overall good state of conservation; however, it concluded that the risk of imminent extinction of the vaquita, which is specifically recognized as part of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and endemic to the Gulf of California, and whose numbers declined from approximately 300 at the time of the inscription of the property to 59 in 2015, and further to an estimation of 30 individuals in 2016 made by the Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita (CIRVA), represents a clear ascertained danger to the OUV of the property in line with Paragraph 180 c) i) of the Operational Guidelines. The mission further concluded that entanglement in gillnets is the main cause of vaquita mortality and that the illegal trade in totoaba swim bladder is the central driver of the problem. Furthermore, although exact estimates of the population of the totoaba are not available, there is concern that the increased pressure from targeted fishing of this species is not sustainable. Therefore it is recommended that the Committee inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger and request the State Party to develop, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, a set of corrective measures and a proposal for the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) focused on the measures needed to address the issue of illegal fishing and to enable shifting of legal fisheries to be regulated and sustainable and based on the use of fishing gear that does not cause bycatch of marine mammals, sharks and turtles in order to ensure the long-term protection of the OUV of the property.
Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2017
Draft Decision: 41 COM 7B.15
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/17/41.COM/7B.Add.2,
- Recalling Decision 40 COM 7B.75, adopted at its 40th session (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016),
- Notes with appreciation the State Party’s ongoing commitment and efforts aimed at the preservation of the critically endangered vaquita and totoaba, particularly through the establishment of an unprecedented level of cooperation between different national authorities, including the Mexican Navy;
- Notes with utmost concern the conclusions of the 2017 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission that the decline of the critically endangered vaquita has continued to an estimated 30 individuals and that the main cause of its mortality is entanglement in illegal gillnets;
- While noting the confirmation of the mission that other attributes of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) remain in good condition, considers that the risk of imminent extinction of the vaquita, specifically recognized as part of the property’s OUV and endemic to the Gulf of California, represents an ascertained danger to the OUV of the property in line with Paragraph 180 c) i) of the Operational Guidelines;
- Decides to inscribe the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California (Mexico) on the List of World Heritage in Danger;
- Urges the State Party to implement all recommendations of the mission, particularly the establishment of a permanent ban on gillnets use, sale, manufacture and possession at sea and on land within the Vaquita Refuge and the current Gillnet and Longline Suspension Zone and in the adjacent land areas and development of alternative gear for legal fisheries which would not cause bycatch of vaquita and other marine mammal species, sharks and turtles;
- Reiterate its calls to the States Parties, which are transit and destination countries for illegal trade in totoaba swim bladder, to support the State Party of Mexico to halt this illegal trade, in particular through the implementation of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES);
- Requests the State Party to develop, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, a set of corrective measures and a proposal for the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR), for examination by the Committee at its 42nd session in 2018;
- Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2018, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session in 2018.
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”).