QUITO – The UNESCO mission that has been monitoring Ecuador’s Galapagos archipelago spoke of progress in the islands’ conservation and improved living conditions for its population, but also warned of possible risks from tourism and the current change of government there.
In a press release in Quito, Mark Patrick, representative of the World Heritage Center of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said that the mission was being carried out at the request of the Ecuadorian government to evaluate the islands’ development.
The mission also analyzed the conservation efforts underway and the national and international investments being made “to improve not only the environment, but also the standard of living” of the settlers.
The visit of Patrick and other officials of the international organization forms part of a permanent evaluation of the islands, named a Natural Heritage of Humanity site in 1978 but included on the list of World Heritage in Danger in 2007.
Patrick said that the information gathered during his week-long trip to Ecuador will be presented to the World Heritage Committee, an inter-governmental organization made up of 21 of the 187 nations that have ratified the World Heritage Convention and which will make a report on the islands in June.
The report will comment on the “progress on many fronts” that has been observed, including the management of exotic species and phytosanitary services and of the Agrocalidad agricultural agency.
“Galapagos is an archipelago unlike any other, because living on these islands are plant and animal species not found in any other part of the world, which really have unique behavior and have survived and developed for millions of year without the presence of humans,” Patrick said.
In controlling products entering the islands, “really tremendous progress has been made” compared with the situation 10 years ago, he said with reference to the high-grade technical system “with the resources” to control the entry and departure of goods in the archipelago.
But Patrick also warned that there has been “a strong growth in the economy” of the islands, even though tourism declined in 2009 for the first time in 20 years.
Tourism, he said, is strong and its tendency is to grow, which means “a tremendous opportunity to see how to manage economic growth…and the effects that come with population growth and tourism.”
He also noted the transition in the archipelago’s form of government, which is in the process of altering its institutions and unifying all authorities under a single governmental council.
He said that this “transitional phase…has to be wrapped up soon so there is no uncertainty about who is in charge, how policies will be formulated and who will carry them out.”
The Galapagos Islands are located at some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of the coast of continental Ecuador and take their name from the giant tortoises that live there. EFE