1.         Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection (Panama) (N 1138rev)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  2005

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/1138/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1138/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: USD350,000 (Management planning, installation of mooring buoys for diving boats, working with local communities, capacity building, public use planning, improved stakeholder understanding of legal protection measures)

Previous monitoring missions


Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1138/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2009

The World Heritage Centre was informed by the NGO community of a change to the legal protection of the Special Zone of Marine Protection (SZMP) in 2008, leaving it vulnerable to industrial tuna fishing activities. Following an exchange of correspondence between the State Party and the World Heritage Centre, and subsequent to an intensive public relations campaign by Panamanian civil society, the changes affecting the property were reversed in April 2009.

The World Heritage Centre participated in the final evaluation of the 5 year Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape project in Panama City, in April 2009, during which time it had the opportunity to review in greater detail the current state of conservation of the property in the presence of representatives from the National Environmental Agency (ANAM) and the National Fisheries Agency (ARAP), responsible for the management of the National Park and the Special Zone respectively, and of several national and international conservation NGOs. The participants acknowledged the successful participatory development of the recently adopted Coiba National Park management plan, along with the establishment of the multi-stakeholder management committee for the Park. Participants also noted that the property was gaining institutional recognition, pointing particularly to new site based research being financed by the national science and technology agency.

The most immediate concern raised by participants was the on-going presence of a herd of wild cattle, remaining after the island prison was closed in 2007. Their population (estimated at 3,000) is growing, and is the cause of increasing trampling of native vegetation, deforestation, and significant soil erosion. Under the typical heavy rains in this area, soil is washed into the sea, resulting in important nutrient loading and siltation, both highly detrimental to the coral reef ecosystems in surrounding waters. There is a jurisdictional conflict between government departments in regards to the responsibility over dealing with the removal of these animals. Their continued presence on the island is severely impacting the property’s Outstanding Universal Value for both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. If this problem is not resolved soon, the level of impact will likely grow to the point of becoming an ascertained danger to the property.

The World Heritage Centre also learned of several large proposals for the development of marinas and luxury residential hubs along the coast opposite the property. Though none has yet been approved, given the past trends of intensive coastal zone development throughout the Pacific Coast of neighbouring Costa Rica, and increasingly in Panama, the Coastal area opposite the property is highly likely to be developed in the foreseeable future. Given its proximity to the property (less than 5 km in some cases), the risk posed by such development could be very important if not properly managed. Risks would arise from a variety of sources, including among others: i) nutrient and other pollutants loading into the waters during the construction phase, and from eventual waste water reaching the sea; ii) high use pressure from pleasure craft and sports fishing in the National Park and Special Zone; iii) potential for fuel spills and iv) increased pressures to develop tourist infrastructure within the property to complement those developed in mainland. To safeguard the property’s Outstanding Universal Value and its conditions of integrity against such possibilities, the State Party should carry out an environmental impact assessment on the whole of the development potential for the coastal zone. Based on its results, it would be in the position to establish if any development should take place or not. In the latter case, the assessment would provide technical justification for the imposition of strict limits on the nature and/or extent of development, insisting, for example, on setbacks from the coastal zone, and on best practices for waste water treatment and solid waste management. The State Party is also encouraged to develop innovative financing mechanism that would support effective monitoring and control activities within the property necessary in light of eventual increased pressures arising from coastal development.

The meeting participants were also concerned with the continued absence of a management plan for the Special Zone of Marine Protection. In its absence, fishing activities are poorly regulated and open to practices that are contrary to conservation of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value and its integrity. A draft management plan had been proposed, but rejected by the Special Zone management committee as being too permissive. The final version must ensure that the values for which the property was inscribed onto the World Heritage List are effectively protected in perpetuity.  

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN


Decision Adopted: 33 COM 7B.38

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-09/33.COM/7B,

2. Recalling Decision 29 COM 8B.13, adopted at its 29th session (Durban, 2005),

3. Notes that the State Party has recently adopted the Coiba National Park management plan, as recommended in Decision 29 COM 8B.13;

4. Urges the State Party to finalize the management plan for the Special Zone of Marine Protection of the property and to ensure its effective implementation, and reminds the State Party of the recommendation made by IUCN in its evaluation of the nomination, that commercial fisheries need careful management and a clear fisheries monitoring system be implemented;

5. Notes with concern the continued and growing presence of cattle in the property, which is the source of increasing damage to its Outstanding Universal Value, and strongly urges the State Party to ensure its complete removal as a priority matter;

6. Also notes with concern the growing potential for coastal development on the shores opposite the property, and requests the State Party to develop and implement a coastal zone development and conservation policy with the purpose of ensuring that cumulative development impacts to the property's Outstanding Universal Value are foreseen and effectively averted;

7. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2011, a report on the state of conservation of the property, including on progress made in removing cattle from the property finalizing and implementing a management plan for the Special Zone of Marine Protection and establishing a formal policy on development and conservation of the coastal zone opposite the property, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session in 2011.