On 1 February 2007, the State Party provided the World Heritage Centre with a report on the state of conservation of the property, including clarification on the status of the proposed reactivation of mining concessions. This very general report noted:
a) A number of forest areas within and close to the boundaries of the property that were affected in the past by mining and agricultural activities are showing some increasing level of recovery; however the rate of ecological recovery is generally slow;
b) The conservation and management of the property has been enhanced since its inscription on the World Heritage List due to the efforts of the State Party supported by a number of projects funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), WWF-Canada and other international NGOs. These actions strengthened management capacity at the field level; and targeted control and prevention of forest fires, eradication of exotic species, and public use and environmental education.
c) In relation to the status of the proposed reactivation of the mining concessions the State Report is unclear.
The State Party notes that a mining concession for exploration in the area of Pilotos (a large concession located in the heart of the property) was approved in 1996 for a Cuban-Canadian joint venture between Moa Nickel S.A (Cuba) with Sherrit International (Canada). No activities have been implemented in this area since 1997 due to the fact that Sherrit International has communicated its position not to explore or exploit this concession in line with the international policy statement of the International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) of not mining in World Heritage properties. However the State Party report does not provide any information on whether or not this concession would be handed over to other mining companies.
The Cuban mining company Moa Nickel S.A expressed in 2004 its interest to undertaking exploration activities in the concessions of Las Iberias and of Cupeyal; however no information is provided on the status of proposed development of these concessions.
Another four mining concessions in the areas of Camariocas Sur, Camariocas Este, Santa Teresita and La Deltahave been granted to Moa Nickel S.A in the year 2000 and 2006. These concessions are mainly located in the periphery of the property; however small portions of them are within the boundaries of the property.
In Annex 6 of the State Party report, a huge potential concession for exploration, the La Fangosa concession, is shown; however no information is provided on its status.
Finally, the letter supporting the State Party report notes two important issues. Firstly, the Cuban government foresees implementing all necessary studies to determine the mining potential of the region where the property is located. Secondly, and critically, whilst the Ministry of the Environment of Cuba recognizes the incompatibility of developing open mining activities with the conservation objectives of the World Heritage property, it proposes to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to minimise impacts on the values of this property by using the best available technology.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN would like to note, based on the report submitted by the State Party and additional information received, the following issues:
a) Based on the maps provided by the State Party the granted concessions of PilotosandCamariocas Sur will affect the eastern part of the core zone of Cupeyal-Ojito de Agua Sector; thus impacting the area of El Toldo within this core zone. The concessions include the El Toldo peak and the El Toldo plateau, which reportedly boast most of the endemism in Cuba and are important centres of global endemism.
b) The proposed extension of the Camariocas Sur concession into the park borders only covers approximately 3 square kilometres of the protected area, the implications of surface mining (including collateral road building and human access) are potentially catastrophic to the outstanding universal value and integrity of this property. In addition, the proposed concession of La Fangosa is covering close to two-thirds of this core zone while the proposed concession of Las Iberias is covering over half of the core zone of the Jaguaní Sector; in fact these two concessions represent approximately 40% of the property.
c) The granted concession of Santa Teresita covers areas included in the north-eastern part of the property with high potential to affect the marine areas of the property. Mining in the area would create potentially damaging levels of toxic run-off associated with the erosion of acid lateritic soils that could easily impact the local waterways and the coastal mangrove ecosystems in the property’s marine area. Furthermore, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN believe that extending the concession into the park will imply a change in the boundaries that will set a dangerous precedent; particularly keeping in mind recent issues associated with the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary and the deletion of this property from the World Heritage List. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN stress that these two core zones (Cupeyal-Ojito de Agua Sector and the Jaguaní Sector) include the key values which are crucial for the outstanding universal value of the property; thus any mining impact on these core zones will affect the key values for which the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
d) As recognized by the State Party in its letter of 16 January 2008 and as confirmed by independent advice from IUCN experts the only way to exploit the mineral deposits in this region is through open mining. Ore extraction in the concessions needs to be done by surface mining – approximately 150 cm of the vegetation and soil cover is completely removed to allow off-site processing of the minerals. The result of such operations is a complete, irreversible destruction of the natural ecosystems in the affected areas. While prospecting does not produce the same level of impact, its main problem resides in the need to build a network of roads in order to allow systematic sampling of the area, generally using heavy trucks and drilling equipment. Therefore, as noted in the letter from the State Party and confirmed by expert advice, such activity and associated infrastructure, is incompatible with the conservation objectives of this World Heritage property. It is of great concern that some of these concessions have been granted in the period when the property was originally nominated for World Heritage listing as well as just few years after its inscription in the World Heritage List. In this context it is imperative for the State Party to recall the World Heritage Committee’s position that mining and oil/gas exploration and exploitation should not occur within the boundaries of a property, and this position has been endorsed by the International Council on Mining and Metals in its Position Statement on Mining and Protected Areas (2003).
e) Furthermore, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN would like to stress that the values for which this property was inscribed on the World Heritage List under criteria (ix) and (x) are intrinsically linked to the maintenance of the existing ecosystems and of the varied topography and complex underlying geology that have given rise to one of the most biologically diverse tropical islands sites on Earth. The letter from the State Party keeps open the possibility of authorizing mining development in this World Heritage property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that, exploration and open mining in this property, will lead to the loss of the outstanding universal value of this property thus making a clear case for the delisting of this property from the World Heritage List.