Decision : CONF 205 V.130-137
Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
V.130 The Bureau was informed that on 16 January 2001, the Ecuadorian oil tanker Jessica ran aground at the entry to the port of Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island. It was carrying 160,000 gallons of diesel oil and 80,000 gallons of bunker fuel. Most of the oil leaked into the sea covering an area of 3,000km2 reaching the shores of the Islands of Santa Fe, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. Species affected by the oil include sea lions, marine birds, sea turtles and iguanas. Given the quantity of fuel spilled, the immediate impacts could have been far worse, but the currents and winds carried most of the oil into deeper offshore waters where it was dispersed. Nevertheless, continuous monitoring is needed in order to determine the possible medium- and long-term impacts to the ecosystem, although the damage to date appears to be minimal. The accident, that has proved to be caused by negligence, triggered the preparation of work on a contingency plan for future emergencies and has led to efforts to improve the regulatory framework to minimise future hazards. Handling of the spill costs the Ecuador Government several million dollars, part of which was covered by external assistance.
V.131 The Jessica remains grounded, the Captain has been charged, and insurance compensation is being sought. Suggestions have been made by WWF and others that the Ecuadorian Government should designate the Galapagos Marine Reserve as a “particularly sensitive sea area” (PSSA) under the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The benefits of such an initiative are being studied by INGALA and the Ecuador Maritime authorities. IUCN noted similarities between this situation and that of the Great Barrier Reef. IUCN emphasised the importance of compulsory pilotage in environmentally sensitive areas such as World Heritage sites and also the importance of having effective emergency response strategies in place to enable prompt and effective action to issues such as the oil spill in Galapagos.
V.132 IUCN noted that the specific regulations under the Special Law, including fisheries, tourism, environmental control, and introduced species/agriculture, are still awaited and views this as a very high priority matter. Drafts of the regulations are in an advanced stage and should be approved before July 2001. Without the regulations in place, progress has been limited in controlling immigration, limiting fishery seasons and catches, and preventing illegal commercial fishing. Both the Navy and the marine unit of the GNP have intercepted a number of vessels and discouraged others, but prosecutions have been few and illegal fishing continues. Even worse, the Navy has allowed the release of several seized vessels which has implicated them in the illegal fishing business and reduced the Government’s credibility in enforcing the law. This was further weakened during the fishermen's strike of November 2000 where intimidation of Park staff and violent action led to the Government backing down on quota limits.
V.133 Annual monitoring reports on the illegal commercial fisheries in the Marine Reserve show that many thousands of sharks have been taken out of Galapagos waters and that long-lining for other finfish has had severe effects on many other species. Moreover, the loosely regulated controls on sea cucumber harvesting have led to a precipitous decline in the population, which may never recover to sustainable levels. Despite areas of progress, the lack of sufficient enforcement has led to a continued over-fishing which is a major threat to the Galapagos marine environment.
V.134 On the positive side, the Bureau noted two key actions are expected that will set a much firmer basis for addressing the issues. First, is the passage of the regulations that will clearly specify what limits are on fisheries, immigration, etc., and will allow more effective application of the Special Law. Second, is the IDB loan for implementing the Galapagos Marine Reserve Plan that devotes US$4 million to strengthening the control and security system. There is also a growing public feeling within Ecuador to address illegal fishing activities more firmly, which, with the added resources and resolve of the State Party, could lead to a reduction in further damage. Commitment at the central political level, however, is a fundamental prerequisite. Any revisions to the Special Law that would weaken it would be very detrimental to the participatory process that agreed to it.
V.135 The Bureau was informed of details about the international assistance received from private organizations, bilateral co-operation and in-kind donations from Governments to assist the Ecuadorian authorities. The donations amounted to a total of US$ 666,187; additional without the contributions from UNESCO (US$ 25,000) and the World Heritage Fund (US$ 50,000) were also provided.
V.136 The Delegate of Ecuador stated that consequences of the oil spill are no longer visible in the Galapagos Islands. He also thanked the Committee for the emergency assistance of US$ 50,000 provided after the oil spill.
V.137 The Bureau, while concerned with the impacts of the oil spill of the tanker Jessica, acknowledged with appreciation the efforts of the State Party and the International Community in relation to the clean-up and rescue activities following the oil spill caused by the tanker. The Bureau encouraged the State Party to expedite regulations to implement the Special Law for Galapagos and to enforce their implementation as soon as possible.