Galapagos On, Everglades Off World Heritage Danger List

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, June 26, 2007 (ENS) - A UN panel today declared that the outstanding natural values of Ecuador's Galapagos islands are in danger, threatened by invasive species, growing tourism and immigration. The World Heritage Committee placed the Galapagos, as well as Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal, on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger in hopes of rallying support for their conservation.

The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Christchurch, is reviewing the state of conservation of the 830 sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List, and particularly the 31 sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger before the start of this session.

A group of visitors surrounds two giant Galapagos tortoises. (Photo courtesy IGTOA)
Called a unique living museum and showcase of evolution, the Galapagos were the very first site to be inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978.

Located in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the South American continent, the 19 islands of the Galapagos and their surrounding marine reserve host increasing thousands of visitors each year.

The number of days spent by cruise ship passengers has grown by 150 percent over the past 15 years, the Committee said, and this increase has fueled a growth in immigration, inter-island traffic, and the introduction of more invasive species.

Several airlines are now fumigating passenger cabins, with passengers aboard, to combat the growing threat of mosquito borne diseases, such as avian malaria that could devastate Galapagos wildlife populations. The chemicals, d-phenothrin and permethrin, are approved by the World Health Organization for use in aircraft.
The Gambia River flows through Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park. (Photo USGS)

In Senegal, Niokolo-Koba National Park on the banks of the Gambia River was added to the World Heritage List in 1981.

The forests and savannahs of the park are inhabited by the largest of the antelopes, Derby elands, as well as chimpanzees, lions, leopards and a large population of elephants, numerous birds, reptiles and amphibians.

The site is endangered by poaching and by plans to construct a dam on the Gambia river just a few kilometers upstream from the site, the Committee said. The dam threatens to stop the flooding of the grassland of the site which is essential to sustain wildlife.

Two sites were removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger today - the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras and the Florida Everglades National Park. The Committee decided that improvements in the preservation of each site has improved enough that they are no longer in danger.

Miskito Indians on the Rio Platano, Honduras. (Photo by Dennis Glick courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

The Committee welcomed the corrective measures taken by the Honduran authorities to preserve the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, one of the few remaining tropical rainforests in Central America. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982 and on the Danger List in 1996.

These corrective measures, recommended by the IUCN-World Conservation Union 11 years ago, were designed to relieve the site of encroachment by agriculture, timber trade and hunting.

In the reserve's mountainous landscape sloping down to the Caribbean coast of northeast Honduras about 2,000 indigenous people have preserved their traditional way of life.

The Committee commended the United States for its investment of scientific and financial resources to rehabilitate the Everglades, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 and on the Danger List in 1993.

Described as a river of grass flowing to the sea, the Everglades' exceptional variety of water habitats has made it a sanctuary for many species of birds and reptiles, including threatened mammal species such as the manatee. It had been threatened by urban growth, changes to the natural water flow into the park, increase in invasive species, and damage caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne welcomed the Committee's unanimous decision.

Florida's Everglades National Park shelters many rare bird species. (Photo by Rodney Cammauf courtesy NPS)

"I am gratified that the World Heritage Committee recognized the major commitment the United States has made to restoring one of our nation's and the world's greatest natural treasures," Kempthorne said. "The Committee has highlighted our work to restore the Everglades as a model for the rest of the world to follow."

To date the United States has authorized $8 billion for the implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

The United States, along with the IUCN, developed a detailed series of measures to address key threats to the Everglades, which were adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its session last year.

"Although full implementation of some of these measures is still a few years off, we have committed significant resources toward the restoration of the Everglades, detailed plans are being implemented, and significant on-the-ground work has already been accomplished," said Todd Willens, Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and the co-head of the U.S. delegation to the World Heritage Committee meeting in New Zealand.

The World Heritage Committee is the governing body of the 183 nation World Heritage Convention, which seeks to identify, recognize and protect the world's most significant natural and cultural heritage.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.