IUCN informed the Bureau that the Department of Conservation in New Zealand has recently submitted a progress report on a number of management issues at Tongariro National Park, inscribed on the World Heritage List under both natural and cultural criteria. The report was distributed to the Bureau.
IUCN reported that Mount Ruapehu had erupted in 1995 and 1996 draining the volcano’s crater lake and creating a build-up of ash that blocked the lake’s outlet. IUCN noted that the best available scientific opinion is that, when the crater lake refills, probably within the next few years, and if nature is left to take its course, a rapid collapse of the ash dam could occur followed by a major lahar. The Park’s managers are faced with the dilemma of either letting nature take its course and putting both human life and some natural values at risk or taking action to open up the outlet. The option currently being considered by the authorities is to excavate a trench through the ash at the crater outlet, an action that, on IUCN’s preliminary assessment should not significantly affect the natural values for which the site is inscribed. However, IUCN indicated that any interference with the summit area has implications in terms of Tongariro’s inclusion on the List as an associative cultural landscape because of the spiritual, traditional and cultural values to the Maori people, especially those who gifted the sacred volcanic peaks as a National Park in 1887. Consultation is proceeding with the two Maori tribes involved and with the Tongariro/Taupo Conservation Board on which Maori serve. One tribe has indicated its opposition to any interference with the summit whilst the other tribe has reserved its position. An Environmental Impact Assessment is awaited. ICOMOS commented on the report provided by IUCN by stating that the matter was of great concern.
The Bureau took note of the report and commended the State Party for its recognition of the cultural and natural World Heritage values of Tongariro National Park. The Bureau requested that the New Zealand authorities keep the Centre informed about the outcome of decisions concerning the management of the ash build-up at the crater outlet of Mount Ruapehu at Tongariro National Park so that the Centre in association with the Advisory Bodies can report back to the Committee and its Bureau.