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World Heritage Convention

Decision 23 BUR IV.B.32
Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

At its last session, the Committee commended the State Party for ensuring the passage of the «Special Law on the Galapagos» on 18 March 1998, by the Official Registry of Ecuador as Law No. 278, and decided not to include Galapagos in the List of World Heritage in Danger. The Law provides for the extension of the outer boundary of the marine reserve from 24 to 64 km offshore and for the establishment of a significant 130,000 km2 Reserve for the conservation of marine biodiversity where only tourism and artisanal fisheries will be permitted. Furthermore, the Law addresses most of the key issues relating to conservation and sustainable development of Galapagos, including those five issues which had been described in the reports of the Bureau and Committee sessions in 1998.

Information received by IUCN indicated that positive actions have been taken to enhance the integrity of this site. The general regulation to implement the Special Law for Galapagos has been approved. However, the various special regulations have yet to be developed and thus many sections of the law are yet to be enforced. The greatest concern is that there is still no regulation governing the application of the various provisions of the law dealing with the control of introduced species, environmental impact assessment, environmental auditing and other environmental protection tools. There are pressing needs for fisheries regulations, co-ordinated with the marine reserve management planning and for tourism regulations. In relation to tourism, a specific concern is that the combination of environmental and tourism regulations should tightly regulate the application of the fourth Transitory Disposition of the Special Law for Galapagos, which exempts Isabela Island and its residents from certain constraints on tourism expansion. This Special Law could, if misapplied, open-up loopholes for undesirable development with negative effects on Galapagos conservation.  In August 1998 a new Constitution came into force in Ecuador. With respect to the Galapagos, the new Constitution reaffirms the special status of the Archipelago.

Despite the delays in developing regulations, activities are moving rapidly towards the establishment of the quarantine inspection system for the Galapagos. Inspections should start in ports and airports, both on the mainland and in the islands, by mid-1999. The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) is helping to co-ordinate activities in the Islands, providing some technical assistance and running an intensive awareness programme. There are prospects for funding a large part of the quarantine inspection infrastructure, training and expert services through two projects of the Inter-American Development Bank.

The Bureau noted that, in relation to the eradication of alien species from the Islands, the Ministry of Environment has prepared a request to the Global Environment Facility for funding to protect the terrestrial biodiversity of Galapagos. It complements other parts of the conservation strategy for the Galapagos Islands that aim to control the spread of invasive species belonging to other animal and plant taxa.  A proposal by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, in co-operation with the CDRS, for funding from the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) and the UN Foundation (UNF) has been approved for an amount of US$ 3,999,850. The project is entitled Control and Eradication of Invasive Species: A Necessary Condition for Conserving Endemic Biodiversity of the Galapagos World Heritage site. Of the amount approved, US$ 2,000,000 will be used to set up an Endowment Fund to provide long-term support for the control and eradication of invasive species in Galapagos Islands.

The Management Plan for the Marine Reserve was approved on 18 March 1999, despite complications caused by the lack of a General Regulation to the Special Law. The approval of the Management Plan should mark the end of commercial fishing in the Marine Reserve and the establishment of the Participatory Management Group for the Reserve. Essential for the implementation of the Management Plan is a clear definition of management zones, especially no-take zones. The details of artisanal fisheries regulations, including the definition of "artisanal" in the Galapagos context, are also to be decided through a technical exercise, which has been initiated with the co-operation of the National Fisheries Institute, but would benefit greatly from international technical expertise in fisheries. A third issue to be considered in implementing the management plan is the establishment of mechanisms to regulate total fishing capacity in the Islands.

Despite all these positive developments, the decision to reopen the sea cucumber fisheries for two months raised serious concern among national and international conservation NGOs. The two fundamental concerns are the status of the resource itself and the capability to effectively manage fisheries activities. A report received from the Charles Darwin Foundation indicates that the reopening of sea cucumber fisheries, follows an assessment of the populations in the fishing zones. A joint monitoring and patrolling programme between GNPS, CDRS and the Ecuadorian Navy has been established using six patrol boats. Thanks to the support of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the marine patrol is supported by an aerial patrol. This patrolling system is proving to be an effective enforcement mechanism. The current situation relating to the number of boats and fishermen is still unclear and this is an issue of concern. Monitoring indicates that the level of the catches is extremely low in comparison with that of 1994 and that the divers are now harvesting sea cucumbers in deeper waters. Results to date indicate that this activity is unsustainable and could have additional impact on the overall marine life of the Reserve.

IUCN noted the importance of quickly developing special regulations to enable sections of the special law to be applied (particularly related to fisheries and tourism). IUCN raised concerns about the re-opening of the sea-cucumber fisheries in relation to the impact on the resource, and the capability to effectively manage fishery activities. IUCN looks forward to reviewing the recently approved Management Plan for the Marine Reserve to examine it in relation to the possible re-nomination of the Marine Reserve as an extension to the World Heritage site. IUCN underlined the progress made and that the Galapagos Islands provide a model for other countries with regard to the management of World Heritage sites.

The Observer of Ecuador expressed his appreciation to all donors assisting in the protection of the site and stated that his Government carried out all the requests made by the Committee. He hoped that all difficulties in the implementation of the law and the re-nomination of the Marine Reserve could be overcome.

The Bureau complimented the State Party for its efforts to improve the conservation of the Galapagos Islands World Heritage site, particularly during difficult economic times. The Bureau recognised the support provided by USAID, Frankfurt Zoological Society, The Barbara Delano Foundation, WWF, and The David and Lucille Packard Foundation to strengthen management of this site, as well as UNF/UNFIP for the approval of the project on control and eradication of invasive species. The Bureau requested the State Party to provide copies of the recently approved Management Plan for the Marine Reserve to the Centre and IUCN for review. The Bureau also requested IUCN to determine whether the plan provides a satisfactory basis for the re-nomination of the marine reserve as an extension to the World Heritage site and submit its findings to its next session in November 1999. The Bureau invited the State Party to submit the first of its annual reports on the state of conservation of Galapagos to the twenty-third session of the Committee.

Decision Code
23 BUR IV.B.32
States Parties 1
Properties 1
State of conservation reports
1999 Galápagos Islands
Context of Decision