As requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006) and at the invitation of the State Party, a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN mission, including the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, visited the Galapagos Islands from 8 to 13 April 2007. The mission participated in the multi-stakeholder meeting organised by the State Party, as requested by the Committee, held discussions with various stakeholders and on that basis, assessed the state of conservation of the property.
The mission noted that all the factors affecting the property, which were described comprehensively in the 2006 UNESCO/IUCN mission report continue to be relevant and of concern, and that none of the 15 specific issues listed in Decision 30 COM 7B.29 had been addressed by the State Party. On the contrary there were clear indications that the situation was getting worse, as exemplified by the following:
a) On 17th March 2007 the Galapagos National Park Director and her staff were assaulted by members of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces stationed on Baltra Island, while carrying out their responsibilities of enforcing park regulations;
b) An additional entry point to the Islands has been created with the commissioning of an airport on Isabella Island;
c) The number of commercial flights to Galapagos, each a potential agent for the introduction of harmful alien species, has nearly doubled since 2001, while at the same time, the number of quarantine agents and phytosanitary inspectors mandated to reduce the risk of alien species introduction has reportedly diminished by 20%;
d) The World Heritage Centre has received reports of large-scale illegal cutting of protected mangroves forests on Isabella Island, under municipal government patronage.
The multi-stakeholder meeting which was held on Santa Cruz Island on 9 April 2007, to advance the development of the vision 2020 for Galapagos process, also highlighted a number of continuing problems, as follows:
a) The piece-meal approach to regional planning, the lack of inter-agency coordination, and the continuing lack of political will, leadership and authority is proving inimical to the development and effective implementation of a common vision for Galapagos. It is also a limiting factor in the full application and enforcement of the Special Law for Galapagos. Consequently, there is a weakening of institutions, conflicts over jurisdiction and generally a lack of effective governance.
b) The risks from alien invasive species are rapidly increasing, mainly as a result of increased visitation, while the Agricultural Health Service of Ecuador (SESA) and the and Inspection and Quarantine System for Galapagos (SICGAL) has inadequate staff and capacity to deal with the nature and scale of the problem. As there is no practice of fumigating aircraft and ships, SICGAL estimates that 779 invertebrates entered the islands through aircraft in 2006.
c) The rapid growth of the tourism sector is haphazard and unsustainable and some activities, such as sport fishing, have been promoted and implemented despite the fact that the exisiting regulatorry framework does not provide for such activities. Tourism is also not equitable and much of the benefits do not accrue to the local communities. There was a 26% increase in planes and 15% in ships arriving to the islands in 2006. Other reports indicate that in the past 15 years, the number of cruise ship passenger days has increased by 150%, and the number of hotels has doubled. It is this gowth that fuels immigration to the islands, which in turn leads to inter-island traffic, exacerbating the already very serious threat from introduced species.
d) Despite clear laws restricting migration to Galapagos, the National Institute for Galapagos (INGALA) is unable to control the arrival of illegal immigrants, as there is no effective migratory control system at all of the entry points. While the population growth rate in continental Ecuador is 2.1%, it is 6.1% in the Galapagos Islands, with the population doubling every 10 years. About 20% of the resident population is reported to be illegal immigrants. This is putting pressure on the limited civic services, facilities and natural resources.
e) The staff of the National Park and Marine Reserve lack job security, stability of tenure, and the capacity and facilities for effective law enforcement.
f) The education system has not been reformed as required under the Special Law for Galapagos, and as yet does not incorporate elements of environmental management and heritage preservation, and natural resources conservation development, further delaying the critical need to develop an insular culture focused on sustainable development.
Following the multi-stakeholder meeting, the Ministry of Environment prepared and submitted (on 24 April 2007 and in Spanish) to the World Heritage Centre a report of the meeting, and a table (hereafter referred to as the ‘action plan’) showing the activities proposed to be undertaken in relation to each of the 15 issues listed in Decision 30 COM 7B.29, the time-frame for their completion, the indicators to measure progress, and the institutions responsible for implementing these activities. Additionally, the action plan includes specific activities proposed for the Agriculture and Health sectors.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that this action plan, with indicators and time-frames constitutes the programme of corrective measures to overcome many of the serious threats confronting the property, and can also be used as a tool for monitoring the progress of implementation.
Decree issued by the President of Ecuador
While the joint mission was in the Galapagos Islands on 10 April 2007, the President of Ecuador issued a Decree declaring the conservation and environmental management of the Galapagos archipelago ecosystem in a state of risk and national priority. The Decree requires the Governor of the Galapagos Province to convene a meeting of the INGALA Council within 15 days to address and make policies on the following issues:
a) To determine the current status of conservation, development and health (sanitation) of the archipelago and its marine reserve;
b) To determine the efficacy of the total control of introduced species;
c) To study the possibility of temporarily suspending the issuance of new tourism patents and air operation permits;
d) To study the possibility of temporarily suspending residence permits;
e) To prioritise compliance with the provisions of Articles 4 (functions of INGALA) and 6 (powers of the INGALA Council) of the Special Law for Galapagos;
f) To coordinate fulfillment of the powers and responsibilities of each of the institutions with activities in the Galapagos province;
g) To order the performance of the population census on the archipelago and devolution to the continent of inhabitants living illegally on the islands.
The Presidential Decree also calls upon the SESA-SICGAL, in coordination with the Ministry of the Environment, to submit within 30 days a proposal for the eradication of the primary introduced species and the financial and technical requirements to do so. It also orders the Ministry of Economy and Finance to allocate the financial resources required to enforce the decree and any resolutions made on the status of the Galapagos province by the INGALA Board, the Ministry of Environment, SESA, SICGAL, and the Ministry for the Coordination of Internal and External Security (CIES).
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the Galapagos Islands World Heritage property is clearly plagued by several dangers, as clearly assessed during the mission, which are adversely impacting its outstanding universal values and integrity, and therefore, recommend that it be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.