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 2019
On 31 January 2019, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1182/documents, providing the following information on the implementation of the recommendations made by the 2018 mission:
- The surveillance operation in the Upper Gulf of California, including permanent presence of patrol vessels and surveillance camps on the coast, has continued as a coordinated effort by various governmental agencies;
- Alternative fishing gear is reported to be available to initiate a transition period to gillnet-free fisheries in the Upper Gulf of California, which would require participation of fishermen and relevant governmental agencies. An assessment of the efficiency of developed “suripera” nets for shrimp fishing was undertaken in 2018-2019. Development and testing of alternative gear for corvina fishing is ongoing;
- The Agreement issued by several Secretaries of State, which bans gillnet fishing in the Upper Gulf of California, already represents a legally-binding provision and does not require enactment of an additional law;
- In April 2018, the refuge area for the protection of the vaquita was extended by a Secretarial Agreement;
- Various measures were undertaken to strengthen capacity to prevent, detect and intercept illegal international trafficking of wildlife products by PROFEPA (the Attorney’s General Office), Federal Police and the Mexican Navy;
- The study on the current status of totoaba and vaquita, requested at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in 2016, has not yet commenced due to financial constraints, as was communicated by the CITES Executive Secretariat to the State Party. A paper was prepared for consideration at CITES COP18, scheduled for May 2019;
- An update is provided on the implementation of other mission recommendations, including further development and implementation of community engagement and compensation programmes and the continuation of the ghost nets retrieval programme. Development of a “Shared Vision of the Gulf of California” is underway, and aims to develop management and legal instruments to strengthen cross-sectorial cooperation;
- The proposed new Biodiversity Law was discussed by the Mexican Congress, but was not approved.
On 24 April 2019, the State Party submitted additional information, including a summary document of the Initiative for the Sustainability in the Northern Gulf of California.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
The continuation of the surveillance operation in the Upper Gulf of California, involving several governmental agencies, as well as measures aimed to further strengthen law enforcement capacity to prevent and intercept illegal international trafficking of wildlife products should be commended. The reported progress in implementing other key recommendations of the 2018 mission is also noted, particularly the development of alternative fishing gear, which is reported to be available to start transition away from gillnet use. It is important to ensure that the necessary resources and inter-institutional support are available to initiate as a matter of urgency the transition to fishing gear that does not endanger vaquita, with full engagement of local communities.
Unfortunately, these efforts appear not to have significantly reduced the pressures on the property from illegal fishing of totoaba, nor prevented the further decline of the vaquita population. The report of the 11th meeting of the Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita (CIRVA) held from 19-21 February 2019 has concluded that an estimated 10 vaquitas remained as of summer 2018 prior to the current fishing season, compared to the previous CIRVA population estimate of 30 animals. The acoustic monitoring programme further indicates that the few remaining vaquitas inhabit a very small area, approximately 24 x 12 km, most of which lies within the Vaquita Refuge. However, CIRVA noted that high levels of illegal fishing for totoaba continue to occur in this area. It should be recalled that the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session in 2018, deciding that it was too early to determine whether the efforts undertaken by the State Party had averted the risk of extinction of the vaquita, postponed its decision on the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger to be able to consider the data from the 2018-2019 season in order to assess if the vaquita decline had been halted. The conclusions of CIRVA and the information at hand makes it clear that despite the continuation of the unprecedented inter-institutional efforts, illegal fishing of totoaba has continued or even escalated in the Upper Gulf of California, causing further decline of the vaquita population and posing a significant threat to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), including the integrity of the property.
It is clear that the longer-term protection of the property’s OUV will not be possible without both significantly increasing efforts to tackle international trafficking of wildlife products, which underpins illegal fishing in the Upper Gulf of California, and by developing solutions for sustainable livelihoods for local communities. In this respect, it is regrettable that the study on the current status of the totoaba and vaquita, and information on illegal trade and markets in totoaba requested by the CITES Standing Committee, could not yet be undertaken due to financial constraints. However, in the short-term, it will be crucial to ensure that surveillance and enforcement measures are further strengthened in the Vaquita Refuge area, where the remaining individuals are most likely concentrated, to ensure that this area remains completely gillnet-free. In this regard, it will be also important to continue the illegal net retrieval programmes.
Given the evidence above and sense of urgency, and in conformity with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines, it is therefore 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, a timeframe for their implementation 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 the necessary regulatory and operational reforms for legal fisheries to ensure that they are sustainable and do not cause bycatch of marine mammals, sharks and turtles, in order to guarantee the long-term protection of the OUV of the property.
Decision Adopted: 43 COM 7B.26
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/19/43.COM/7B.Add,
- Recalling Decision 42 COM 7B.86, adopted at its 42nd session (Manama, 2018),
- Welcomes the ongoing surveillance efforts by the State Party undertaken in the Upper Gulf of California, as well as measures to prevent illegal international trafficking of totoaba products, but expresses its utmost concern that despite the significant efforts, illegal fishing of totoaba has continued and even escalated in the Upper Gulf of California resulting in a threat of imminent extinction of the vaquita population, specifically recognized as part of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and endemic to the Gulf of California, and considers therefore that illegal fishing represents an ascertained danger to the OUV and integrity of the property, in line with Paragraph 180 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;
- Takes note of the reported progress made with the development of alternative fishing gear and urges the State Party to ensure that the necessary resources and inter-institutional support be available to start without further delay the transition to fishing gear that does not endanger vaquita and other non-target marine mammals, turtles and sharks, with full engagement of local communities;
- Taking into account the recommendations of the Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita (CIRVA) to avoid the imminent extinction of the vaquita, also urges the State Party to further strengthen its enforcement and surveillance activities to ensure that the area where the last remaining individuals of vaquita are concentrated remains completely gillnet-free and to ensure that illegal net retrieval programmes are continued;
- Reiterates its calls to the States Parties that 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);
- Also takes note that the study requested by the CITES Standing Committee on the current status of totoaba and vaquita, and on the illegal trade and markets, has not been undertaken yet, and also reiterates that, once available, this study 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;
- Requests the State Party to develop, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, a set of corrective measures, a timeframe for their implementation 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 44th session in 2020;
- Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2020, 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 44th session in 2020.
Decision Adopted: 43 COM 8C.1
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List (WHC/19/43.COM/7B, WHC/19/43.COM/7B.Add WHC/19/43.COM/7B.Add.2 and WHC/19/43.COM/7B.Add.3) and the proposals for inscription of properties on the World Heritage List (WHC/19/43.COM/8B and WHC/19/43.COM/8B.Add),
- Decides to inscribe the following property on the List of World Heritage in Danger:
- Mexico, Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California (Decision 43 COM 7B.26)