September 18, 2010
The UNESCO’s Committee for World Heritage Sites, which had placed Galapagos since 2004 in the list of “Sites in Peril”, due to the alarmingly high immigration of people into the inhabited islands; the increased arrival of introduced animal and plant species; the proliferation of fishing practices, hazardous for the native species, among the main reasons, removed the islands from the infamous list a few weeks ago, after a technical mission made a site-inspection and witnessed the efforts which the Government of Ecuador; the Galapagos National Park; the local authorities; the private enterprise and the local community have been making and continue to do, in order to restore greater and more efficient controls in order to effectively preserve the islands’ fragile ecosystems.
The UNESCO’s resolution was happily saluted by Ecuador and the authorities remarked the high responsibility which represents keeping up with a thorough and effective Management Plan for the islands, conceived for the short, mid and long-terms. For the tourism and travel industry it also represented good news, as the unique travel destination which the islands are, especially for nature-loving voyagers, were somehow tainted by being on the “Heritage Sites in Peril” List. The official declaration of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee recovered for Galapagos its prestige as a unique natural place and one of the best preserved archipelagos in the world.
The UNESCO’s General Conference approved in 1972 the “Convention for the Protection of World Natural and Cultural Sites” and since then, a titanic effort was launched in order to protect both natural and cultural locations of exceptional value, throughout the world, to preserve them for posterity. The Galapagos Islands were declared a World Natural Heritage Site in 1979, and were among the first locations in the world to receive such an distinction and to become subject of international surveillance, under the direction and control of the Government of Ecuador, country to which the islands belong.
The criteria to be considered a World Heritage Site include fulfilling several characteristics such as superlative natural phenomena and or exceptional natural beauty; ecological and biological processes; biological diversity and adequate state of preservation. The Galapagos met these indicators, with the added value of being a one-of-a-kind living laboratory of evolutionary processes with the presence of a high number of animal and plant species which do not occur anywhere else on earth and thus becoming of special interest for the world of science and investigation.
The initial declaration of the Galapagos National Park’s terrestrial surface of over 770.000 hectares, which account for almost 97% of the Archipelago’s land surface, was complemented, in December of 2001, with the declaration by UNESCO of the Galapagos Marine Reserve as a World Natural Heritage Site of its own, recognizing the equally superlative biological value of the marine life in and around the Islands’ waters. Since then, the Marine Reserve is also under strict management plans and regulations, continued research and special controls, while also being a highly demanded tourism highlight in the world.
To celebrate the return of the Galapagos to the “clean” list of World Heritage Sites, the Galapagos National Park, the Ministries of the Environment and of Tourism of Ecuador, together with local authorities, national and international organizations, community and entrepreneurs, have organized the First Summit on Sustainable Tourism, which will take place from September 22 to 24 in San Cristobal. The high level gathering will seek to update and reinforce the role model of conservation-oriented tourism which earned much recognition to the islands since their incorporation to the most important circuits of world tourism.