1.         Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve (Russian Federation) (N 1023rev)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  2004

Criteria  (ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1023/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1023/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

N/A

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1023/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2016

On 29 January 2015, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, which is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1023/documents/.

The report notes that in 2015 a series of measures was carried out within the property aimed at the “provision of the necessary facilities” and cleaning of the territory from the garbage accumulated during past human presence on Wrangel Island “to ensure the security of the Russian Federation”. It is stated that the area where these activities were undertaken is about 20 hectares. Further activities to remove garbage, such as empty old barrels, from the island are planned for 2016-2017. With regards to the facilities, the report also states that most of the territory where “the objects are placed" has no vegetation, and the vegetation that is present does not include rare or endemic species.

With regards to the seismic exploration activities, the report confirms that such activities are prohibited within the waters of the property and that, in the past, vessels only had to enter the buffer zone of the property to seek shelter from storms under permission from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the administration of the Wrangel Island Strict Nature Reserve. The report also states that no oil production is currently being undertaken nor is planned in the areas surrounding the property.

The State Party also provided a copy of the 2013-2017 management plan for the property, which includes activities on the development of ecotourism, including procedures for issuing permits for visit and application and enforcement of rules of conduct for visitors.

Regarding the oil exploration plans in the Chukchi Sea by the Shell company, no official information has been received by the World Heritage Centre from the State Party of the United States of America. In addition, on 27 September 2015, six weeks after it began exploratory drilling off the Northwest Coast of Alaska, Royal Dutch Shell announced on its website that it “will cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future” (http://www.shell.com/media/news-and-media-releases/2015/shell-updates-on-alaska-exploration.html). 

Despite the request of the World Heritage Committee (Decision 39 COM 7B.25) to the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property, no invitation had been received at the time of writing this report.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The information provided by the State Party that activities aimed at removing garbage from past activities on Wrangel Island, as expressed by the Committee at the time of the inscription of the property (Decision 28 COM 14B.14), is welcome.

The fact that “provision of facilities” is also ongoing, raises concerns. It is regrettable that the State Party did not invite a Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to assess potential impacts of these facilities, as well as associated current and future human presence, on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and integrity of the property. It is recommended that the World Heritage Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to invite a Reactive Monitoring mission to the property, as a matter of urgency. 

IUCN notes that governmental sources of information confirm the presence of personnel of construction companies on the island, and notes in particular the information available on the website of the official governmental programme on protection of polar bears (http://programmes.putin.kremlin.ru/bear/news/25256) also confirms that an incident with a polar bear occurred on Wrangel Island in late 2015, involving one of the employees of the construction company, and reports that the bear was severely, and possibly intentionally, wounded and was later found dead. The Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Chukotka Autonomous region has initiated an investigation of the case. Growing human presence in this highly sensitive environment will be likely to lead to further human-wildlife conflicts. Therefore, it is crucial that any activities and facilities are minimized to the degree possible and that those planned are subject to rigorous Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), which should also evaluate potential impacts on the property from any associated human presence.

The information available in the management plan with regards to tourism activities is noted. A figure in the Appendices suggests that additional guest houses are planned within the property; however, no details are provided. It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to provide detailed information on any planned tourism infrastructure, including EIAs of any such projects.

The information provided by the State Party that oil exploration activities are prohibited within the property and that seismic prospecting vessels only enter the waters within the property in order to avoid storms is noted. However, it is recommended that the Committee regret that the State Party did not provide more detailed information on the current status of the ongoing or planned exploration projects in the vicinity of the property, nor any of the EIAs, which were requested by Decision 39 COM 7B.25. Therefore, it is also recommended that the Committee request the State Party to provide detailed information on any ongoing or planned oil exploration activities in the vicinity of the property and to submit EIAs for such projects. For all of the EIAs mentioned above, it will be crucially important to include specific assessment of potential impacts on the OUV of the property, in line with IUCN’s Advice Note on Environmental Assessment.

It is considered that the continued development of facilities and the associated increase in permanent human presence on Wrangel Island poses a potential danger to the very sensitive arctic ecosystem of the property, in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines. The potential for significant impacts is exemplified by the incident involving the death of a polar bear. It is therefore recommended that, in case there is insufficient progress in addressing the above-mentioned issues, the World Heritage Committee consider the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 41st session in 2017.

Decision Adopted: 40 COM 7B.98

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/16/40.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decision 39 COM 7B.25, adopted at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015),
  3. Regrets that the State Party did not invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property and reiterates its request to the State Party to invite this mission, as a matter of urgency;
  4. Welcomes the information that activities aimed at the removal of garbage from past human presence have been undertaken and that further activities are planned in that regard for 2016-2017;
  5. Expresses its utmost concern over the ongoing construction of facilities within the property and the associated increased human presence on the island and the potential impacts thereof on the sensitive arctic environment of Wrangel Island, and considers that this poses a potential danger to the property, in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines;
  6. Urges the State Party to halt the construction of facilities and any associated activities until their impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property have been assessed through rigorous Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), and requests the State Party to submit these EIAs to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN;
  7. Notes confirmation that oil exploration and exploitation are prohibited within the property and that in the past, seismic exploration vessels incidentally entered the waters of the property only in order to seek shelter from storms, but also regrets that no information was provided on the current status of the oil exploration projects that are planned or ongoing in the vicinity of the property, nor any EIAs were submitted to the World Hersitage Centre;
  8. Also reiterates its request to the State Party to provide detailed information on the current status of any ongoing and planned oil exploration projects in the vicinity of the property and to submit EIAs for such projects, including specific assessment of their potential impacts on the OUV of the property, in line with IUCN’s Advice Note of Environmental Assessment;
  9. Notes with concern that additional tourism infrastructure is planned within the property and also requests the State Party to provide detailed information on any planned tourism infrastructure, including EIAs of any such projects;
  10. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2017, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in 2017, with a view to consider, in the case of a lack of significant progress in addressing the above-mentioned issues, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.