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Fragile Galapagos Environment in Danger

by Ray Lilley  UK Independent  June 24, 2007

The Galapagos Islands may be listed as "in danger" by the world's top cultural body because tourism is threatening the environment of the islands that helped shape Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Unesco's World Heritage Committee begins a weeklong meeting in New Zealand today and will consider an application from the territory's ruler, Ecuador, to further protect the Galapagos, said the organisation's chairman, Tumu te Heuheu.

The islands have "a very fragile ecosystem and there is a need to manage those activities", he said.

Delegates will also consider applications to add at least another 45 new sites - including the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House in Australia - to the World Heritage list.

To be considered are 11 natural sites, 32 cultural sites, and two "mixed" sites, the committee said. It declined to give details of sites up for consideration.

In April, Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, declared the archipelago, home to dozens of endangered species, at risk and a national priority for action.

The islands, which are Ecuador's top tourist draw, were suffering an environmental and social crisis, he said, and needed restrictions on tourist and residency permits.

"A site in danger doesn't mean to say we've lost the benefit of the site," Mr Te HeuHeu told New Zealand's National Radio yesterday. "It simply means that there are some matters that need to be tended to with the support from international bodies like Unesco."

In 1978 the islands were given World Heritage Site status by Unesco and in 1985 it was made a Biosphere Reserve. This was extended in December 2001 to include the marine reserve of 43,500 square miles of ocean surrounding the islands.

Some 31 world heritage sites are already on the danger list - sites threatened by a variety of problems such as natural disasters, pillaging, pollution, and poorly managed mass tourism.

The state of conservation of these "in danger" sites will be reviewed during the conference. The meeting will also examine impact of climate change on World Heritage sites and ways to protect them from natural disasters.

A conference session will be devoted to the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls and in particular on the archaeological excavations at the Mughrabi ascent, officials said.

Unesco's 1972 Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage currently protects 830 properties around the world that have what it describes as "outstanding universal values".

These include 644 cultural, 162 natural and 24 mixed sites across 139 countries.


Source: UK Independent

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