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Questions remain on why Galapagos is off the Danger List

Date: August 29, 2010

Several organizations have have raised questions and concerns about the removal of the Galapagos from the World Heritage in Danger List last month.  (see previous posts)

The following was reported on the website,  Our Amazing Planet.

The decision goes against the recommendations of UNESCO, the United Nations body that, along with outside experts and scientists, monitors sites on the WHC’s danger list.

“The state of conservation report presented by UNESCO did not suggest that the site should be removed from the danger list, that was a decision the committee made,” said Sue Williams, a UNESCO spokesperson, who said the WHC members are government representatives, free to accept or reject UNESCO’s recommendations.

“They’re free to make up their own minds.”

However, some conservation organizations question the relatively swift change in the site’s designation. The islands were only added to the danger list in 2007, at the behest of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

Tim Badman, head of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) world heritage program, called the committee’s decision premature.

“It’s a recent inscription,” Badman said in a phone interview. “We expected the time to be taken to deal with all the issues that have been raised. There’s still work to be done to manage bio-security on the island, tourism activity, and governance of this site.”

Johannah Barry, president of the Galapagos Conservancy, acknowledged that President Correa has made some inroads against the myriad problems facing the islands, but said removing the area from the danger list delivers a false impression of safety.

“I’m concerned it might appear like everything’s all better now,” Barry said, “and I don’t believe that’s the case.”

Barry cited the alarming influx of alien plants, animals and diseases in recent years, from West Nile virus and parasitic flies that are killing off the islands’ finches, to domestic dogs and cats that maim and kill the archipelago’s marine iguanas.

Invasive species “are the biggest threat to the Galapagos’s biodiversity,” Barry said.

People are also invading the islands. In the early 1990s, the area received about 60,000 tourists annually. Last year, 163,000 people visited the Galapagos Islands. The number of residents has also ballooned, Barry said, from somewhere around 10,000 in the early 90s to 25,000 to 30,000 now.

“It used to be you could count the number of cars,” Barry said. That’s not the case anymore.

UNESCO’s Williams said yesterday’s decision won’t mean the Galapagos will be ignored.

“Just because it has come off the list doesn’t mean UNESCO doesn’t pay attention to it anymore,” Williams said. “If there’s a deterioration of the situation, it could very well be the site could be re-inscribed on the list.”

The Galapagos Islands remain a World Heritage Site – they were the first spot to ever receive the designation, in 1978.

Galapagos_mk
Matt Kareus

Matt is the Executive Director of IGTOA.


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