1.         Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras) (N 196)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1982

Criteria  (vii)(viii)(ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger    1996-2007, 2011-present

Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger

Corrective measures identified

Adopted in Decision 35 COM 7B.31, See page https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4439

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/196/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1982-1996)
Total amount approved: USD 198,000
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/196/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: USD 80,000 (in addition to approximately USD 100,000 of in-kind technical assistance) under the management effectiveness assessment project “Enhancing our Heritage”. 

Previous monitoring missions

1995 and 2000: IUCN monitoring missions; 2003 and 2006: World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring missions; 2011: Joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Illegal settlements;

b) Illegal livestock grazing and agricultural encroachment;

c) Illegal logging;

d) Illegal commercial fishing;

e) Poaching;

f) Alien Invasive Species;

g) Management deficiencies;

h) Potential impacts from hydroelectric development projects;

i) Lack of law enforcement;

j) Lack of clarity regarding land tenure and access to natural resources.

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/196/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2012

The State Party submitted a report on the property’s state of conservation on 7 February 2012. Responses to the corrective measures identified at the time of inscription of the property onto the List of World Heritage in Danger are as follows:

a) Establish permanent and systematic monitoring to identify encroachment and land use changes of the entire protected area, and if possible the broader region, and relocate illegal occupants who have recently settled in the property, in particular in the core zone of the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve

The State Party provides quantitative information illustrating its efforts at dealing with illegal logging and poaching, focusing on the number of patrols, arrests and prosecutions. Twenty four reports of illegal logging and deforestation were investigated and under prosecution in 2011, while twenty cases of wildlife trafficking have been forwarded to the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office. One aerial surveillance mission is reported, along with the establishment of a military post in the heart of the property. The results of these activities were reported to the Ad-Hoc Technical Committee created under Presidential Decree (see point f below). A series of military field posts are planned for the coming year, with the intention of increasing the monitoring capacity in and around the property.

Illegal settlement in the property, resolved after an initial occurrence in the 1990’s, was again an issue noted during the 2011 joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN reactive monitoring mission. The State Party now reports that a systematic, transparent and legal process was undertaken in September 2011, during which all illegal occupants (73 persons) were removed from the property, along with 600 head of cattle. All related infrastructure was destroyed. A national press conference was held to communicate the intentions of the operations, taking the opportunity to emphasize that the national authorities were investing heavily in ensuring the property would be protected from illegal activities, and to discourage others from considering such actions.

b) Continue efforts to negotiate and clarify access to land and natural resources while enforcing existing land tenure and access arrangements and explore opportunities for more meaningful co-management with a particular focus on the indigenous communities of the cultural zone

The State Party reports on its on-going efforts to improve forest resource management, through the emission of non-commercial extraction permits and a strengthening of the chain of custody for timber. One hundred and ninety four non-commercial licenses were awarded, which are designed to help local and indigenous communities legally extract forest products for local construction needs.

c) In cooperation with the indigenous communities concerned, complete land tenure and resource access arrangements adapted to their historical and cultural contexts

The State Party reports that an inter-institutional judicial group was formed to provide legal support for the regularization of land tenure, including the attorney for the Indigenous Affairs Office. The Forest Conservation Institute, which reports directly to the President, was identified as having the legal responsibility to provide land tenure to the ancestral lands of indigenous groups in the zone. It affirms that a clear legal process has been identified through which these lands are expected to be titled in the coming years.

d) In coordination with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, review in a timely manner, any projects for the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Patuca River until it has been clearly demonstrated to the World Heritage Committee that they will not negatively impact the property's Outstanding Universal Value

The State Party indicates that, besides Patuca III, no other hydroelectric dams are currently contemplated on the Patuca River. It provided a copy in Spanish of the entire Environmental Impact Assessment report of the Patuca III hydroelectric dam (464 pages, not counting annexes) and copies of environmental mitigation works contracts in December 2011. These are currently under review by IUCN. The dam is located on the Patuca River, a few kilometres downstream from the conjunction of the Guayambre and the Guayape Rivers and 77km from the property’s boundaries. The Patuca River flows for approximately 200km beyond the dam, in a wide arc around the boundary, before coming against the southern boundary of the property’s buffer zone. The Patuca River never flows any closer than 13km from the property boundary. The watershed feeding into the Patuca River upstream from the dam does not overlap with the property, reducing the risk of any impact to aquatic ecosystems therein. However, the State Party notes that the Patuca River forms the southern and eastern boundaries of the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve as redefined in 1997, which adjoins the property and is intimately related to it. Based on this analysis, the World Heritage Centre considers that the Patuca III dam does not pose a threat to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property as it is currently recognized under the World Heritage Convention. However, IUCN notes that based on the available information, it cannot draw a definite conclusion in this regard. IUCN considers that the State Party should provide, in one of the two working languages of the Convention (English or French), information regarding the direct, indirect and long-term impacts of the dam on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. However, both the World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the dam’s distance from the property and the presence of several tributaries of the Patuca River downstream of the dam, could potentially mitigate negative impacts. Nevertheless, IUCN considers that indirect or long-term impacts, such as displacement of local communities, further complicating the land tenure issue, and impacts on aquatic migratory species downstream from the dam as a result of changes in water flow, should also be noted. Furthermore, recalling the Committee’s request that the State Party redefine the property’s boundaries so that its Outstanding Universal Value can be better conserved (Decision 35 COM 7B.31), they note that the dam may impact areas that are being considered for inclusion in the property. IUCN also notes that other protected areas in the region may be impacted.

e) Provide the necessary human resources and logistical capacity to the agencies responsible for the protection and management of the property to enable them to regularly monitor and deal with illegal activities affecting the property

No information was provided on any specific efforts aimed at strengthening the capacity of national agencies responsible for managing the property, or for implementing national programmes or policies, though there are plans to bolster the military presence. In this regard, fourteen points within and around the property have been identified as critical for the monitoring and controlling of illegal activities. These are to be operated by the military starting in 2012. The State Party reports that support is received from a variety of stakeholders, including NGOs, the military and community members in the implementation of its activities.

f) Using the on-going management planning process, seek to coordinate the many actors, various institutions and external supporters involved in Río Plátano in order to significantly improve coherence, effectiveness and efficiency of future management in addressing the issues affecting the property

Soon after the 2011 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission to the property, the Government of Honduras declared it as a “zone of special interest” by Presidential Decree. This status requires that national policies be applied as a high priority and also calls for the formulation of an inter-ministerial strategic plan to address the problems there. It also calls for the creation of an Ad-Hoc Technical Committee to help coordinate efforts, comprised of senior government representatives, in this case led by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Forest Conservation Institute. The international community in Honduras was officially informed of this development in April 2011 in order to encourage it to prioritize its programmes in such a way as to contribute to dealing with the management priorities.


Beyond the corrective measures identified by the World Heritage Committee, additional issues were requested to be addressed:

a) Property boundary design

The State Party submitted an international assistance request (IAR) on 9 September 2011 requesting financial support for its efforts at re-drawing the property’s boundaries. The request was reviewed by the International Assistance Request Panel, which requested clarifications. These were received in February 2012. IUCN further commented on the proposal and these comments were sent to the State Party on 6 April 2012. No response has as yet been received. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that any proposal for property boundary modification should take into account potential impacts of the Patuca III dam and ensure that appropriate mitigation measures are taken to minimize impacts should any be discerned.

b) Increase in illegal drug trans-shipment activities in and near the property

No property specific measures were reported by the State Party regarding the control of drug trans-shipment activities in and near the property, beyond its reference to the creation of military posts in relation to illegal activities (see point eabove). It does indicate that it amended its laws in January 2012, now permitting that a Honduran citizen can be extradited to another country when they have been indicted on drug trafficking, organized crime, or terrorism charges. Prior to this amendment, extraditions were not entertained under Honduran law. Press reports and the United States of America White House website indicate that during a visit by the USA vice president to Honduras on 6 March 2012, the matter of drug trafficking was discussed. The USA Government is reported to be intent on continuing its financial support to Honduras in combating trafficking, while the issue of decriminalization of drugs as a way to undermine drug cartels appears tobe gaining ground amongst Government leaders in the region. 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The State Party has taken important initial steps in drawing the necessary political attention to dealing with the conservation challenges of the property, before and following its inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The establishment of an inter-ministerial technical committee to oversee progress in dealing with these challenges, and the development of an inter-ministerial strategic plan are welcome indicators of senior political resolve, though a copy of that plan along with the State Party’s report would have provided further insights into proposed actions on the part of the Honduran government. The State Party report does not provide information regarding the establishment of the capacity to permanently monitor encroachment and land use change, as requested by the Committee at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011), and focuses on reactive surveillance and control activities. A more systematic approach, using remote-sensing, may be worth considering complementing field activities.

Efforts at establishing a land tenure system adapted to the specific needs of the indigenous groups in and around the property, though underway, remain to be finalized. Until this issue is dealt with, the property remains at great risk from illegal settlement.

The State Party is demonstrating a clear commitment to deal with the issues identified by the World Heritage Committee; however without an established and stable management presence on the ground, it will not be possible to implement the necessary corrective measures. Though armed forces are seeking to provide some interim response, the presence of non-military permanent and adequate staff, responsible for site management will be necessary to provide for the protection and conservation of the property. The use of the property as an important drug trans-shipment area remains a significant concern, as it undermines the rule of law and the regional political cohesion necessary to deal with other issues such as indigenous land tenure, forest clearing and ranching, and illegal logging and poaching. Given the on-going incongruity between the new zonation of the Biosphere Reserve and the boundaries of the property, it remains incumbent on the State Party to rapidly address this issue. Further information in one of the two working languages of the Convention (English or French) should be provided regarding the potential direct, indirect and long-term impacts of the Patuca III dam on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the Committee retain this property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. 

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 7A.17

The World Heritage Committee,

1.  Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7A.Add,

2.  Recalling Decision 35 COM 7B.31, adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),

3.  Welcomes the progress made towards the relocation of illegal occupants from within the property, and also the establishment of an inter-ministerial judicial group to lead the land tenure regularization process for indigenous groups living in and around the property;

4.  Takes note of the Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Patuca III hydroelectric project on the Patuca River and considers that “the dam does not pose a threat” to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and that the State Party reiterates its commitment to protect the Outstanding Universal Value and ensure that appropriate mitigaton measures would be put in place, as needed;

5.  Urges the State Party to pursue its efforts at redrawing the property’s boundaries to reflect the increased size of the protected area, the new zonation, and the existing land uses, taking into account different aspects related to the Patuca III dam on areas that are considered for inclusion in the property;

6.  Also welcomes the State Party’s efforts to assure a Government presence in the area, and urges it to ensure that the fourteen checkpoints designed to control illegal activities in and around the property are effectively staffed in 2012;

7.  Also urges the State Party to ensure the adequate presence of non-military, permanent, and trained protected areas staff responsible for site management, to provide for the protection and conservation of the property;

8.  Reiterates its request to the State Party to establish the capacity to permanently monitor the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, particularly in relation to encroachment and land use change, using a systematic approach, including through the use of remote sensing applications to complement field activities;

9.  Requests the State Party to continue its efforts to implement the corrective measures identified in Decision 35 COM 7B.31

10.   Also requests the State Party to ensure that efforts to prevent the use of the property and surrounding lands for drug trafficking continue, and further welcomes the participation of partner States Parties in finding a solution to this regional problem;

11.   Also reiterates its request to the State Party to finalize, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, a proposal for the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session in 2013;

12.   Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, a detailed report on the state of conservation of the property, with a particular focus on the advances related to the corrective measures and on property boundary modification progress, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session in 2013;

13.  Decides to retain Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras) on the List of World Heritage in Danger. 

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 8C.2

The World Heritage Committee,

1.   Following the examination of the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC-12/36.COM/7A and WHC-12/36.COM/7A.Add),

2.   Decides to maintain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger:

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 8D

The World Heritage Committee,

1.   Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/8D,

2.   Recalling Decision 35 COM 8D adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),

3.   Acknowledges the excellent work accomplished by States Parties in the clarification of the delimitation of their World Heritage properties and thanks them for their efforts to improve the credibility of the World Heritage List;

4.   Recalls that the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies will not be able to examine proposals for minor or significant modifications to boundaries of World Heritage properties whenever the delimitation of such properties as inscribed is unclear;

5.   Takes note of the clarifications of property boundaries and areas provided by the following States Parties in response to the Retrospective Inventory, as presented in the Annex of Document WHC-12/36.COM/8D:

6.   Requests the States Parties which have not yet answered the questions raised in the framework of the Retrospective Inventory to provide all clarifications and documentation as soon as possible and by 1 December 2012 at the latest.