In 2009, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN received reports from NGOs concerning the development of several oil refinery projects near the property, namely the expansion of the La Rábida refinery and the construction of a pipeline for the Bilboa refinery in Extremadura, as well as information on two minor oil spills linked to La Rábida refinery, which occurred on 30 July and 15 September 2009 and reached the property’s coastline.
On 2 February 2010, a report on the state of conservation of Doñana National Park was submitted by the State Party. The report provides an overview of the status of the above oil refinery and pipeline projects, as well as information on the risk of accidental oil spills resulting from increased maritime traffic to and from the Straits of Gibraltar. The report also provides a detailed summary of the implementation of the Doñana 2005 Restoration Project.
a) Expansion of the La Rábida Refinery
The La Rábida refinery is located outside the property’s boundaries and was built in the late sixties, before Doñana National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List. The State Party notes that the expansion project aiming to increase the refinery’s middle distillate production capacity has undergone an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which was approved by the Spanish Secretary of State for Climate Change in March 2009. The report further notes that the Directorate-General for Biodiversity, responsible for the Natura 2000 network in Spain, does not include the property on the list of sites likely to be directly affected by the La Rábida refinery.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that while the expansion of La Rábida is unlikely to have direct impacts on Doñana’s values and integrity, it may have significant indirect and cumulative impacts on the property due to the augmented risk of accidental oil spills resulting from increased maritime traffic to and from the Straits of Gibraltar, as discussed in point c) below. They request the State Party to provide a copy of the EIA for La Rábida to the World Heritage Centre as soon as possible, highlighting the likely impacts of the proposed expansion on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value.
b) Construction of a pipeline for the Balboa refinery in Extremadura
The State Party’s report notes that the pipeline project for the Balboa refinery is currently undergoing EIA and that the Government of Spain does not plan to start or authorise any new works or buildings in the vicinity of the property that might affect its Outstanding Universal Value. The Balboa pipeline EIA is in its final phase and additional information is being collected to resolve a number of issues, including the likely effect of the pipeline on the regions’ aquifers. The portion of the Balboa pipeline that could potentially affect the property, in the State Party’s view, is the section traversing the province of Huelva to the crude-oil and oil product storage terminal in the port of Palos de la Fontera. The initial ‘project report’ for this development, which preceded the EIA and was issued by the developer (Refinería Balboa-Grupo Alfonso Gallardo), notes seven possible alternative routes for this crude-oil pipeline. The State Party report indicates that, according to the developer’s ‘project report’, the property could be affected by some of the proposed routing options. The final alternative pipeline routes will be analysed in more detail during the preparation of the EIA in order to identify the least environmentally damaging option.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the intent of the Government of Spain not to plan or authorise any new construction works or buildings related to the pipeline in the World Heritage area. However, they consider that the Balboa pipeline may have both direct and indirect impacts on the property’s values and integrity, and request the State Party to submit a copy of the Balboa pipeline EIA to the World Heritage Centre as soon as it becomes available, including information on the potential impacts on the property.
c) Risk of accidental oil spills resulting from increased maritime traffic to and from the Straits of Gibraltar
The State Party notes the likelihood of intensified maritime traffic to and from the Straits of Gibraltar due to the proposed oil refinery projects, and acknowledges that this may augment the risk of accidents and oil spills. The report states that there are comprehensive safety procedures in place to prevent situations of serious risk, catastrophe or public calamity. It notes that the 2008 Special Coastal Pollution Emergency Plan for Andalusia led to the development of the Doñana Natural Area Self-Protection Plan, which is almost complete and will include the coast of the World Heritage property. Moreover, the State Party reports that a maritime traffic EIA will be undertaken to assess the risks of accidental oil spills.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN agree with the State Party’s assessment that augmented maritime traffic may increase the risk of accidents and spills, and request the State Party to submit a copy of the maritime traffic EIA and the Doñana Natural Area Self-Protection Plan to the World Heritage Centre as soon as these become available. They note that despite the existence of the 2008 Special Coastal Pollution Emergency Plan, the oil spill on 30 July 2009, linked to the La Rábida refinery resulted in some hydrocarbons reaching the Doñana coastline, due to the prevailing maritime currents in the area. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the recent minor oil spills in 2009 are indications of the potential for a more serious oil spill to occur which could affect the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property. They further note that the Government of Portugal has expressed concern about the potential impacts of these developments on the Portuguese marine environment. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend to encourage the State Party to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of current and possible impacts of oil refineries in the region, considering the Outstanding Universal Value of Doñana as a factor, in order to consider alternatives to increased maritime traffic and increased risk of accidental oil spills in this sensitive area.
d) Implementation of the Doñana 2005 Restoration Project
The Doñana 2005 Restoration Project, which aims to significantly improve the conservation status of the Park, was launched in response to the April 1998 spill at the Aznalcollar mining reservoir that caused serious pollution of over 4,000 ha of the Agrio and Guadiamar rivers upstream of the property. The State Party reports that the implementation of the Restoration Project to date has reduced the amount of sediments being transported to Doñana National Park marshes and favoured colonisation by amphibians, reptiles and certain fish species. Of the project’s eight actions to ensure hydro-ecological restoration of the basins and watercourses feeding the property’s marshlands, the State Party reports that five are complete and in operation, while two are drafted and awaiting approval. An additional three cross-cutting actions, monitoring, research and dissemination, are ongoing. The report notes that the partial results of the hydro-ecological monitoring carried out in recent years suggest that the project’s five completed actions are succeeding in restoring the property’s marshlands. These actions have enabled the recovery of natural values in the basin watersheds including: i) restoration of wetlands, which has reduced the amount of sediments being transported to Doñana National Park marshes and favoured colonisation by amphibians, reptiles and certain fish species; ii) restoration of the Gallega marsh and the Caracoles estate, which has enabled the recovery of the natural profile and flood levels; and iii) the communication of the Gallega marsh with the Hinojos marsh, which has enabled the recovery of hydrological processes that will permit longer flooding periods in the Doñana National Park marshes.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the progress that has been achieved in restoring the property’s marshlands through the Doñana 2005 Restoration Project. They regret that no report on the project was made available earlier as requested by the Committee. Furthermore, significant additional work is needed to fully restore the structure and function of Doñana’s marshland ecosystem. IUCN notes that two of the incomplete actions, actions 5 and 6 (which aim to restore water inflow into the property’s marshland from the Guadiamar river), are critical to restoring the property and should be rapidly implemented. Moreover, several of the actions reported by the State Party as complete are in fact partially complete. These include the restoration of the El Partido stream, action 3, which is partially complete as the riverbank has not yet been restored. They strongly encourage the State Party to provide adequate resources to complete the restoration programme foreseen, maintain long-term monitoring arrangements, and to consider updating the Doñana 2005 Restoration Project to include the restoration of additional areas bordering the property including the Cantaritas fields (east of the property), as well the fields of Cochinato, Los Garridos and Huerta Tejada (north of the property). These marshland areas, once restored, would form important ecological corridors, which could also help mitigate the likely effects of climate change on the property and maintain its values over the long term.
e) Other conservation issues of concern
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that there has been significant progress in the conservation of the Iberian lynx, Europe’s most threatened cat species. However, while the captive breeding programme has been extremely successful, as noted by the State Party, IUCN has received reports that wild lynxes are experiencing high mortality rates due to road kill, which has caused 24 of the 57 lynx deaths in Doñana in the last 10 years. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the State Party consider addressing road-kill mortality of Iberian lynx by reviewing relevant road plans, and planning and implementing strategic wildlife corridors.
IUCN has received reports from NGOs concerning a number of additional conservation issues of concern. These include over abstraction and pollution of the aquifer underlying Doñana (there are estimated to be 1000 illegal boreholes in the area), and proliferation of illegal strawberry fields outside the property’s boundaries. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that these issues are potentially serious threats to the values of the property and encourage the State Party to evaluate the current regional use of the aquifer, develop a plan to ensure that water flow to the property’s marshland is maintained, and to consider reclaiming illegal fields and those in sensitive locations bordering the property in order to restore ecological corridors. IUCN has also received information concerning existing and planned coastal wind farms near Doñana, which could affect the property’s Imperial Eagle population. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN request the State Party to submit any preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment studies for wind farms near the property to the World Heritage Centre as soon as these become available.
In conclusion, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN are concerned by the many conservation issues affecting the property, which could cumulatively lead to a progressive loss of its Outstanding Universal Value. The many development issues affecting the areas surrounding the property indicate a need to ensure that land uses around Doñana take into account its values. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the State Party undertake a review of planning documents for areas adjacent to the property, in consultation with the Doñana National Park, in order to ensure that future developments do not compromise the property’s values.
IUCN notes that climate change remains an unpredictable factor that is likely to adversely affect the property and should be continuously considered in the implementation and development of the hydro-ecological restoration of the marshlands. IUCN notes that a recent WWF report ‘Environmental flows in the marshland of Doñana National Park’ (2009) demonstrates that freshwater inflow into the property’s marshlands has been reduced by 80%, and that this is reflected in the concomitant reduction of marshland plant communities over 60-80% of the property since 1990, which in turn has seriously affected populations of key bird species including Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris), Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris), and Crested Coot, (Fulica cristata). IUCN considers that the most effective climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy for the property is to restore freshwater inflow to historical levels, to create a network of ecological corridors adjacent to the property by reclaiming illegal agricultural fields and those located in sensitive areas (e.g. along waterways), and to ensure that land uses around Doñana take into account its Outstanding Universal Value.