Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California (Mexico) (N 1182ter)
Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 2005
Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger N/A
Previous Committee Decisions see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1182/documents/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1182/assistance/
UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds
Previous monitoring missions
April 2017: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; February 2018: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission
Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Fishing/collecting aquatic resources
- Illegal activities
- Serious concerns about the imminent extinction of an endemic porpoise species (vaquita) and over the conservation status of a marine fish (totoaba)
- Illegal fishing
Illustrative material see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1182/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2018
On 9 February 2018, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report for the property. A joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission visited the property from 11 to 17 February 2018. Both reports are available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1182/documents. The State Party reports that important efforts have been undertaken to implement the recommendations of the 2017 Reactive Monitoring mission:
- On 30 June 2017, a decree was issued by the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources and the Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, which permanently bans the use of gillnets in the vaquita refuge, prohibits night fishing and enforces the control and monitoring of small vessels;
- Important resources are being mobilized to enforce the ban and curb illegal fishing. Through the Comprehensive Attention Programme of the Upper Gulf of California (COI), different law enforcement agencies cooperate, including the Navy, the Army, the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), the newly established Environmental Gendarmerie, the National Fisheries Authority (CONAPESCA) and the National Commission on Natural Protected Areas (CONANP). Fourteen vessels, including two ocean patrol vessels as well as two helicopters, two aircraft and several smaller boats are permanently mobilized in the operation. The total costs of the operation since its start exceeds USD 27 million in operational costs and USD 16 million in investment costs;
- In addition, several NGO vessels are permanently retrieving illegal nets. Government law enforcement staff is now present on the NGO vessels;
- The Attorney General Office has established an office in San Felipe, allowing more efficient investigation and prosecution. The federal law against organized crime has been reformed and now includes wildlife trafficking;
- The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Institute (INAPESCA) continues its research into alternative fishing gear;
- In August 2017, Mexico organized a trilateral meeting in the framework of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) with representatives of China and the United States of America to discuss the illegal trafficking of totoaba swim bladder. The meeting agreed to establish a contact group and to carry out joint operations when required. A follow up meeting was held in January 2018. The three countries also submitted a joint report to the 69th session of the CITES Standing Committee (SC69) on the efforts to protect the totoaba. The SC69 requested the CITES Secretariat to commission a study on the current status of the totoaba and vaquita, and information on illegal trade and markets in totoaba;
- The Vaquita Conservation, Protection and Recovery programme (CPR) had the objective to establish a small captive population in order to avoid extinction of the species but had to be abandoned after one of the captured animals died. Based on the results of the acoustic detection undertaken during the CPR, the vaquita refuge area was increased. Other data collected are still being analyzed, but the report notes that the detections of both grown up and young animals were encouraging.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
The important efforts to implement the recommendations of the 2017 mission should be welcomed. Although the State Party had only seven months to act on these recommendations, the 2018 mission concluded that significant progress was made on 3 of the 4 priority recommendations. Law enforcement procedures have been significantly strengthened by the enactment of the permanent gillnet ban, the allocation of greater resources to the upper Gulf and improvements to legal procedures associated with gathering data and investigating illegal activities. The COI programme has mobilized multiple law enforcement agencies and unprecedented financial and operational resources and incorporated the assistance of civil society. Net retrieval operations have significantly increased and progress has been made in streamlining and simplifying procedures for the enforcement of regulations. Efforts have been made, at the highest level, to address the issue of the international trade in totoaba with the most important transit and destination countries, the United States of America and China, both through bilateral channels and CITES.
However, the mission considered that progress made to introduce alternative fishing gear remains insufficient and that efforts to trial and integrate alternative fishing gear that does not endanger the vaquita and other non-target species must be expedited. Fishing communities must be fully engaged in this process and the expertise and experience of the Expert Committee on Fishing Technologies (ECOFT) should be the foundation of all future actions so that transition to sustainable and viable fisheries is swift and successful.
The outcome of the CPR has clearly established that removing vaquita to a temporary sanctuary is not a viable option and the only way to safeguard the species from extinction is the cessation of illegal fishing activities within its habitat. It is encouraging that so far only one net entanglement fatality has been recorded during 2018 but even with the increased at-sea surveillance, illegal totoaba nets continue to be recovered on a regular basis, demonstrating that illegal fishing activities still occur.
The mission concluded that it is too early to determine how effectively the efforts undertaken by the State Party to implement the 2017 recommendations have averted the risk of extinction of the vaquita and it is therefore recommended that the Committee postpone a decision on the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger to its 43rd session in 2019, when more data from the 2018-2019 season when illegal totoaba fishing occurs are available and once the above mentioned CITES study has been completed.
In order to prevent the extinction of the vaquita and thus prevent iconic attributes of the OUV from becoming irreversibly lost, it is recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to address four additional key recommendations, made by the mission and summarized in the Draft Decision, to further strengthen surveillance and monitoring, speed up the introduction of viable alternative fishing gears, strengthen the legal status of the permanent gillnet ban and more effectively address the illegal trafficking of totoaba products.
The mission also considers that the results of the CITES study will be key in mapping trafficking routes and in identifying appropriate strategies to combat illegal trade in totoaba, the implementation of which will require a coordinated effort between the States Parties of Mexico, China and the United States of America.
In order to guarantee the long-term protection and maintenance of the OUV of the property, and further improve its conservation and strengthen its management, the mission further proposes long term recommendations on sustainable fisheries, the integration of local communities and the development of an integrated management framework.
Decision Adopted: 42 COM 7B.86
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/18/42.COM/7B.Add,
- Recalling Decision 41 COM 7B.15, adopted at its 41st session (Krakow, 2017),
- Reiterates its utmost concern about the critical status of the vaquita population, specifically recognized as part of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and endemic to the Gulf of California;
- Welcomes the important efforts by the State Party to implement the recommendations of the 2017 mission, in particular the significant progress made in strengthening surveillance efforts in the Upper Gulf of California, the enactment of the permanent gillnet ban, the increased net retrieval operations, progress made in coordinating the different law enforcement agencies and in streamlining the enforcement of regulations, as well as the efforts made to address the illegal international trade in totoaba through bilateral channels and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and appreciates the unprecedented level of financial and operational resources made available by the State Party for these efforts;
- Expresses its concern that insufficient progress has been made on the development and introduction of multiple and viable alternative fishing gears that do not endanger vaquita and other non-target marine mammals, sharks and turtles;
- Regrets that the Vaquita Conservation, Protection and Recovery programme (CPR), set-up to establish a small captive population in order to avoid extinction of the species, had to be abandoned after one of the captured animals died, and takes note of the conclusion that removing vaquita to a temporary sanctuary is not a viable option and that the only way to safeguard the species from extinction is therefore the cessation of illegal fishing activities within its habitat;
- Notes the conclusion of the 2018 mission that it is too early to determine if the efforts undertaken by the State Party have averted the risk of extinction of the vaquita and postpones its decision on the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger to its 43rd session in 2019, when more data from the 2018-2019 season when illegal totoaba fishing occurs are available and once the CITES study on the current status of totoaba and vaquita, and information on illegal trade and markets in totoaba, is completed;
- Requests the State Party to urgently address the following recommendations of the 2018 mission in order to prevent the extinction of the vaquita and thus prevent iconic attributes of the OUV of the property from becoming irreversibly lost:
- Maintain a high level of surveillance and monitoring activities, particularly during the season when illegal totoaba fishing occurs, in the Upper Gulf of California and increase resources, either by area or by type of personnel, to better pursue and subsequently prosecute the most determined fishermen who continue to evade the law,
- Expedite the development, testing and application of multiple alternative fishing gears, in close cooperation with local fishermen and based on the recommendations by the Expert Committee on Fishing Technologies (ECOFT) and review and transform the current economic compensation programme for fishermen into an initiative to incentivize them to develop and use alternative fishing gear,
- Ensure that the Decree that bans all commercial fishing using gillnet and/or longline fishing in the northern Gulf of California, decided between the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources and the Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, is formalized via a legislative branch of government, by a Presidential Decree or by jurisprudence created by the federal court,
- Strengthen efforts to investigate the national and international networks involved in the illegal fishing operations and the illegal trafficking of totoaba swim bladders, making full use of the new provisions for wildlife trafficking under Mexican Federal Law;
- Considers that the results of the study requested by the CITES Standing Committee on the current status of totoaba and vaquita, and on the illegal trade and markets will be key in mapping trafficking routes and in identifying appropriate strategies to combat illegal trade in totoaba products, which will require a concerted effort between the States Parties of Mexico, China and the United States of America;
- Also requests the State Party to address the following recommendations of the 2018 mission in order to guarantee the long-term protection of the OUV of the property, further improve the conservation of the property and strengthen its management:
- Continue to develop a programme of transition from unregulated fisheries into regulated practices, that adhere to clear guidelines for sustainable catch, throughout the property, with defined timelines and regular assessment of programme targets,
- Continue to support the highly successful community programmes that aim to strengthen the involvement of local communities into the protection of the property and their transition into sustainable livelihoods, as well as climate change adaptation programmes,
- Develop an integrated management framework for the property in its entirety including a formal coordination structure;
- Further requests the State Party to implement the other recommendations of the 2018 mission on providing clarifications regarding the new General Law on Biodiversity, the report on the status of the totoaba in the Gulf of California and the publication of the results of the enforcement activities;
- Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2019, 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 43rd session in 2019, with a view to considering, in the case of the absence of significant progress in the implementation of the above, the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.