Area de Conservación Guanacaste (Costa Rica) (N 928bis)
Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 1999
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/928/documents/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 80,000
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/928/assistance/
UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds
Previous monitoring missions
Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Las Pailas I and II geothermal projects adjacent to the property
- Longstanding subsistence and commercial use of land and resources, prior to inscription on the World Heritage List, with impacts stemming from farming, ranching, logging, pesticide use, introduction of exotic species, sulphur mining, amongst others
- Weak control over commercial and artisanal fishing
- Intentional and accidental fires, particularly affecting the dry forests
- Pan-American Highway that bisects the property
Illustrative material see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/928/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2017
On 10 February 2016, in response to Decision 39 COM 7B.29, the State Party submitted a report on geothermal energy development, a separate letter dated 30 November 2016 addressing the Borinquen I and II geothermal projects and, on 1 December 2016 a report on the state of conservation of the property, which is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/928/documents. The provided information can be summarized as follows:
- Impacts and risks stemming from geothermal development are described as low, localized, and occurring outside of the property and therefore not considered to affect the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV);
- Planned wind power projects, as well as improvement and expansion of the Pan-American Highway, which crosses the property, are mentioned in the context of cumulative impacts;
- Environmental management of the geothermal projects encompasses forest restoration, suggested as a positive conservation impact “buffering” the property;
- Legislative bills which would have enabled geothermal development in protected areas are no longer under discussion;
- The potential segregation of 1,056 ha from the Rincón de la Vieja National Park sector of the property to permit a geothermal project has been ceased;
- Site management and the governmental Energy Institute (ICE) are implementing a project funded by Japan with the objective to examine the effectiveness of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Methodology related to geothermal development;
- An Integrated Management Plan (IMP) to guide the entire protected area complex was elaborated in 2014;
- High vulnerability to fires is reported to be caused by farming, ranching, hunting and vandalism during the prolonged dry season, in particular of the important dry forests;
- Poor infrastructure and limited human and financial resources are described as major obstacles to the site’s adequate management.
Multiple additional threats are also briefly discussed, as follows:
- Uncontrolled and poorly studied water extraction by adjacent land users;
- Illegal fishing due to inadequate control and law enforcement with particularly damaging impacts stemming from shrimp fishing;
- Continued pressures from the surrounding agricultural landscape and use of agrochemicals around the property;
- Hunting that has turned from a subsistence activity into recreation or business, with some cases reportedly involving police;
- Extraction of adult parrots and nestlings of various species for the local pet market, and collection of sea turtle eggs due to assumed medicinal and aphrodisiac properties;
- Habitat alteration in both the marine and terrestrial areas attributed to climate change.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
The assessment of the Las Pailas I and II projects, taking into account World Heritage status, and the commitment to consider the property off limits to geothermal energy development are noted. The State Party’s decision to refrain from legal changes permitting geothermal development within protected areas is welcomed. It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to unambiguously confirm that no facilities associated with the projects are, or are planned to be, located within the boundaries of the property and to provide clear maps showing the exact location of all such facilities. In terms of indirect and cumulative impacts, it should be noted that very limited consideration has been given to invasive alien species along access and transmission infrastructure of the geothermal projects. Furthermore, the Environmental Cumulative Effects Assessment prepared for the project makes reference to plans for wind power projects and expansion of the Pan-American Highway. The combination of these indirect and cumulative impacts with the fact that the large-scale geothermal projects are located immediately adjacent to the property raises significant concerns.
The State Party provides a thorough overview of multiple threats to the marine and terrestrial parts of the property. The efforts to control forest fires and illegal resource extraction, including fishing, are noted, and it is therefore recommended that the Committee request the State Party to develop a more systematic strategy to face these and other serious threats. In this regard, the conclusion of the State Party that the property is lacking sufficient financial and human resources to address all issues is of concern.
It is also noted with concern that various species are reported to be subject to “extraction” for the pet trade, as well as for their perceived medicinal and aphrodisiac applications. The collection of turtle eggs is a particular concern, given information annexed to the State Party’s report regarding significant declines in the mass nesting (arribadas) of Olive Ridley turtles at Playa Nancite, which may impact the property’s OUV as recognized under criterion (x). Additional studies regarding the dynamics of these mass nesting events should be undertaken, and adequate measures adopted to carefully monitor the recovery of the arribada in years to come.
It is noted that the property lacks a formal buffer zone in a situation where it is described by the State Party as an “island” embedded within an agricultural landscape. Thus, it is recommended that the Committee encourage the State Party to consider viable options for formally establishing a buffer zone to prevent future impacts on the OUV caused by persistent pressures from agricultural and resource use activities in the property’s vicinity.
In addition, on 5 April 2017, a letter was sent to the State Party by the World Heritage Centre to request information regarding the current status of the “Interoceanic Dry Canal” project and any potential impacts on the OUV of the property.
It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to review the current and potential impacts of multiple severe threats reported by the State Party.
Decision Adopted: 41 COM 7B.12
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/17/41.COM/7B,
- Recalling Decision 39 COM 7B.29, adopted at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015),
- Commends the State Party on the comprehensive reporting on multiple threats to the property and on its efforts to balance renewable energy and biodiversity conservation objectives;
- Also commends the State Party on its commitment to consider the property off limits to geothermal development, and requests it to unambiguously confirm that no facilities associated with the projects are or will be located within the boundaries of the property, and to submit to the World Heritage Centre clear maps showing the exact location of all existing facilities;
- Notes with concern the multiple threats to the property reported by the State Party, and the limited availability of financial and human resources to enable adequate management responses, and therefore also requests the State Party to ensure that appropriate actions are undertaken to address or mitigate these threats and to reinforce the resources available to support this endeavour;
- Also notes with concern the reported extraction of parrots for the pet trade, and the collection of turtle eggs, and in particular the noted decline in mass nesting (arribada) of Olive Ridley turtles, which may impact the property’s Outstanding Universal Value as recognized under criterion (x), and further requests the State Party to provide more information on the measures foreseen to address these issues and to undertake further studies regarding the dynamics of these mass nesting events;
- Requests furthermore the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to evaluate the state of conservation of the property and in particular to review the current and potential impacts of multiple and serious threats to the property, and exchange in more depth with the State Party and other stakeholders, as appropriate, about the option to formally establish a buffer zone;
- Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2018, 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 43rd session in 2019.