X.25 Whale Sanctuary of El Viscaino (Mexico)
The Committee recalled the reports from the twenty-third ordinary and the twenty-third extraordinary session of the Bureau on the state of conservation of this property.
The Committee noted that following its request and at the invitation of the Mexican authorities, a mission was carried out to the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino from 23 to 28 August 1999. The full report and the recommendations of the mission were presented in Information Document WHC-99/CONF.209/INF.20.
The Secretariat introduced the report and the main findings of the mission. The issues were found to be extremely complex and could certainly not be reduced to a concern about one species or event. In fact, the team specifically considered a variety of issues including the management structure, the integrity of the site, status of the whale population, salt production, sustainable use and tourism. The World Heritage area, composed of the two lagoons Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio, retains its quality and significance as a largely natural habitat and fulfils the criteria and conditions of integrity for which it was inscribed in 1993. The Committee was informed that the mission invited the Mexican Government to take fully into account the World Heritage values of the site when evaluating the proposed salt facility at San Ignacio. This evaluation would include not only the population of grey whales and other wildlife but also the integrity of the landscape and the ecosystem.
IUCN informed that it participated in the UNESCO mission and that the technical report is comprehensive and credible. IUCN supports the efforts of the Mexican Government in protecting the site, and in particular in relation to capacity building efforts and the involvement of local people and highlighted a number of specific recommendations in the report. IUCN indicated that the current salt production activities at Ojo de Liebre Lagoon do not impact the grey whale population. IUCN commented that should there be any change to the existing situation at this site, the position of IUCN would be reviewed.
The Delegate of Canada agreed with the conclusions of the mission and congratulated the Government of Mexico for its protection effort. He stated his concerns about potential damage to the site in the event of a new major industrial development and encouraged the State Party to take the World Heritage values fully into account, in particular concerning all measures taken to protect this World Heritage site.
The Delegate of Belgium noted the interest of the public and that the wider public should therefore be informed of the developments concerning this question.
The Chairperson noted the forward-looking decision and his confidence in the State Party to fully protect the site. At present, there are no concerns, as stated in the report. He informed the Committee that he himself had met with the representatives from the NGOs to listen to their views. The Chairperson ensured that the Committee will fully co-operate with the State Party and if any changes to the current state of conservation should occur, he would contact the relevant authorities.
The Delegate of Mexico thanked the Chairperson for his words. He expressed his gratitude to the World Heritage Committee and underlined the involvement of all interested parties. He quoted from the report: "The mission team was impressed by the present condition of the site as a whole and appreciated the ongoing efforts by local people, the staff of the Biosphere Reserve, Exportadora de Sal (ESSA) and governmental regulators to maintain and enhance the integrity of the site. In particular, the team was reassured about the conservation status of grey whales and wished to emphasize the importance of Mexico's demonstrated commitment to population monitoring, scientific research, and habitat protection for this flagship species of the World Heritage site." The Mexican Government endorsed the recommendations and informed the Committee that actions have been already taken, in particular with regard to the voluntary audit and the diversification of tourism. Finally, he emphasized that the Government of Mexico reaffirms its political will to maintain and enhance its co-operation with the World Heritage Committee to preserve the exceptional values of El Vizcaino.
Following these discussions the Committee adopted the following:
"The Committee took note of the report of the mission and the full set of recommendations as indicated in WHC-99/CONF.209/INF.20. The Committee noted that the World Heritage site under present circumstances is not in danger, and scientific data show that the whale population is not endangered and continues to increase. However, if any significant change to the present situation should occur, documented by appropriate evidence, the conclusion concerning the site's status under the World Heritage Convention should be promptly re-evaluated in co-operation and co-ordination with the State Party, and appropriate consideration should be given to this new information by all relevant Parties and the World Heritage Committee."
The Chairperson thanked the State Party for its collaboration and the Committee for the debate.