Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 1983
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/205/documents/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 276,350
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205/assistance/
UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds
Previous monitoring missions
February 2008: World Heritage Centre / IUCN mission
Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
b) Encroachment (settlements, cattle ranching).
Illustrative material see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2008
The State Party of Panama report was received by the World Heritage Centre on 20 February 2008. It consisted of a response to the 2007 Danger listing petition by the International Environmental Law Project received by the World Heritage Centre and was written as a point by point rebuttal of the statements presented in the petition. The State Party of Costa Rica also submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property to the mission team members, addressing issues raised in the previous decision of the World Heritage Committee and reporting on progress made against the recommendations of the 2004 bi-national report on the management of the property. Both reports were in Spanish, restricting their accessibility to the Convention stakeholders.
The States Parties invited a joint UNESCO World Heritage Centre / IUCN mission to the property, which took place in February 2008. The full mission report can be consulted on-line at the following address: https://whc.unesco.org/archive/2008. The following issues and recommendations are noted from the mission and from the analysis of the State Party reports:
a) Hydrolelectric dams and infrastructure
Two hydrolectric dam projects located in Panama have been approved – a large one on the Changuinola river, which is already under construction and a smaller one on the Bonyic river, which is still in the planning phase. No part of these dams, their respective reservoirs nor construction infrastructure will be located within the property boundaries.
The two dams in question will create insurmountable barriers to the migration of seven non-endemic migratory aquatic species (including an eel, gobies and shrimp species) leading to their local disappearance from a significant number of waterways that originate within the property, with possible effects on the food supply of species within the property that prey upon this aquatic life.
The dams will lead to the displacement of five indigenous communities (total population up to 1,000) of the Ngobe and Naso. Efforts are underway to provide new settlements (outside the property) for these people, though active resistance to the move was observed among an unspecified proportion of community members and has been the source of several publicized demonstrations at the construction site. Concerns were voiced that some members could decide to resettle nearer to, or within the property.
The mission team observed that the topography and hydrology of the area could likely be suitable for further dam construction. Though mention of this eventuality was made by the authorities in Panama, no firm plans in this regard were being considered at this time.
Various other infrastructure and development projects, such as roads and utilites corridors are also taking place, or proposed in the areas located between both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and the property. These may pose a threat to the ecological connectivity of the overall ecosystem, particular in light of climate change effects predicted for the area.
b) Cattle ranching
Cattle ranching is common in parts of the property, particularly in Panama, where ranchers must drive their cattle across the property, over the continental divide, to reach markets. In so doing, ranchers appear to have established increasing numbers of pastures within the property, which are visible via satellite imagery, with the objective of fattening cattle before bringing them to market. Several thousand hectares within the property (Panama and to a lesser extent Costa Rica) already consist of privately owned land used for cattle ranching.
c) Illegal commercial fishing, pollution
The mission received reports of a decline in the abundance of migratory aquatic species in the Changuinola river, and anecdotal reports suggest the reasons for this may include illegal commercial fishing in the lower reaches of the river system, and pollution in the river delta, originating from use of fertilizers and pesticides in the surrounding banana plantations, and also from the lack of wastewater treatment facilities in nearby communities.
d) Encroachment and poaching
Overflight of the property revealed apparent encroachment underway within its boundaries by scattered groups of indigenous people on the Caribbean side (Costa Rica), where some concerns were expressed over low abundance of vertebrate species arising from intensive poaching.
The presence and effectiveness of the management authority in both States Parties within the property is low and does not appear to reflect the actual management needs, particularly given the capacities of either State Party to field technical staff and maintain their operations within their protected area networks.
Sentiments were repeatedly expressed by individuals that follow-up of environmental infractions denunciations is poor, reducing the incentive of reporting such events (Panama).
Transboundary coordination structures are in place and have received high level political support, but are limited to the exchange of information between senior government officials and rely largely on financing from external donors. Though the property is the nucleus of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, there is no evidence of a functional Biosphere Reserve Committee, which could act as a framework and mechanism for bi-national multi-stakeholder involvement in management issues. Thanks largely to extrabudgetary sources, notably from the Nature Conservancy and the Global Environment Facility, projects are being prepared with the objective of strengthening transboundary cooperation on the Caribbean side, but there appears to be ample room to improve ground level effectiveness and to incorporate field-level stakeholders.
The State Party of Costa Rica has reported on a series of recent initiatives designed to consolidate and strengthen management of the property located within their national boundaries, with the support of funds from NGOs, foundations and multi-lateral sources.
Management plans are in place and being implemented in both States Parties, though little bi-national coordination in plan development takes place.
As a result of the mission, a series of prioritised recommendations have been made and are noted below in the Draft Decision.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
Decision Adopted: 32 COM 7B.35
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-08/32.COM/7B.Add,
2. Recalling Decision 31 COM 7B.36, adopted at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007),
3. Regrets that the States Parties did not submit their reports in one of the two working languages of the World Heritage Convention (French and English);
4. Notes with concern the observations reported by the World Heritage Centre / IUCN mission to the property, in particular:
a) absence of any planned measures to mitigate the impact of the hydroelectric dams on the seven aquatic species which would otherwise be lost from the affected river systems;
b) significant incidence of cattle within the property, including the creation of illegal pastures within its boundaries;
c) longer term risk to the property posed by potential piecemeal development of hydroelectric dams and their associated infrastructure;
d) risk that communities displaced by the dam construction may migrate into the property if their needs are not adequately addressed;
e) low presence of the management authority at the property;
f) absence of an effective participatory management process involving civil society and government authorities;
5. Requests the States Parties to jointly address these concerns by urgently carrying out the following recommendations, noting points a)-e) as priorities:
a) design, implement and monitor the effectiveness of mitigation measures in relation to the need to maintain the migratory corridors of the Changuinola and Bonyic rivers for the affected aquatic species; implement measures downstream to reduce mortality from pollution and illegal fishing (Panama);
b) develop and implement a plan to control and manage cattle within the property; integrating private lands into the property by 2018 (Costa Rica, Panama), and cease or rigorously control and manage the movement of cattle through the property(Panama) to avoid any effects on the Outstanding Universal Value and the integrity of the property;
c) ensure that the needs of all members of communities that may be displaced by the building of the hydro-electric dams are adequately met, ensuring that the property is not negatively affected (Panama);
d) identify and implement appropriate increases in management authority presence to support the effective management of the property (Costa Rica, Panama);
e) re-activate and support the bi-national Biosphere Reserve Committee for the property, incorporating government and non-government stakeholders, providing effective landscape level input into management planning issues, and use existing bi-national cooperation agreements, particularly those existing under the framework of the CCAD, to further enhance this work (Costa Rica, Panama);
f) carry out an analysis of the cumulative effects of potential further dam construction outside of the property (Panama) and of other infrastructure development (Costa Rica, Panama) on the property's Outstanding Universal Value and integrity to better guide future decision-making and restoration/mitigation programmes;
g) implement a systematic ecological monitoring system to improve understanding of the reduction in wildlife numbers reported to be taking place (Costa Rica, Panama);
h) carry out a detailed assessment of observed encroachment taking place on the Caribbean side (Costa Rica), and implement an appropriate response to stop further encroachments and to ensure property boundaries are respected and their control enforced;
i) assess the effectiveness of the follow-up on environmental crimes reporting, and implement corrective measures where necessary (Panama);
6. Reiterates its request to the States Parties to develop jointly, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value including the conditions of integrity, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session in 2010;
7. Also requeststhe State Party of Panama to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2009, a report on the progress made in regards to the identification and implementation of mitigation measures in relation to the need to maintain the migratory corridors of the Changuinola and Bonyic rivers for the affected aquatic species as noted in point 5a) above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session in 2009;
8. Further requeststhe States Parties to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2009, a joint report on the state of conservation of the property and on the implementaiton of the recommendations noted in points 5a)-i) above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session in 2009.