When would you not want an upgrade? And when would a downgrade be a good thing? When it comes to endangered species and sites, the ability of a list to focus energy and dollars on those (un)lucky enough to make the cut render these questions quite tricky. The bottom line is coin, and sad designations can mean a world of difference.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) held its 34th session in BrasÃlia, Brazil, over the past week and, among other announcements, let the world know that while Florida’s Everglades has once again become a site worthy of its “In Danger” moniker, Equador’s Galapagos Islands no longer fits the bill.
This endangered list isn’t just any old endangered list. For starters, it’s a U.N. deal. Under the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the WHC (which names sites that are of “outstanding universal value”) can inscribe on its List of World Heritage in Danger “properties” whose nations have requested immediate assistance and for which protection had been deemed to require “major operations.” This pretty much means two things: money and dollars. First off, a site that makes the list qualifies for cash from the World Heritage Fund. It also gets what amounts to a giant – and we’re talking giant – shout out to the international conservation community to respond to specific needs asap. According to UNESCO, the “mere prospect of inscribing a site on this list often proves to be effective, and can incite rapid conservation action.”
The Everglades National Park was inscribed this time around at the request of the United States due to “serious and continuing degradation of its aquatic ecosystem.” It’s the second time the Everglades has made the list, its first time being in 1993 after Hurricane Andrew and “a marked deterioration in water flows and quality resulting from agricultural and urban development.” The site was removed from list in 2007, but now “water inflows have been reduced by up to 60 percent and nutrient pollution has increased to the point where the site is showing significant signs of eutrophication, loss of marine habitat and a subsequent decline in marine species.” The Everglades, says the WHC, has the largest mangrove in the western hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America.
Meanwhile, (mostly) south of the equator, the Galapagos Islands were taken off the list due to progress in protecting the archipelago, despite UNESCO itself objecting.
“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,” UNESCO spokesperson Sue Williams tells OurAmazingPlanet. “They’re free to make up their own minds.”
OAP goes on to quote Johannah Barry, president of the Galapagos Conservancy, who acknowledges some “inroads” against the islands’ problems, but said he’s “concerned it might appear like everything’s all better now.” Aside from the continuing onslaught of tourism which has a negative impact on the site, Barry points to the 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.”
All told, the Galapagos retains its international panache when it comes to conservation efforts. “Just because it has come off the list doesn’t mean UNESCO doesn’t pay attention to it anymore,” OAP quotes Williams as saying. “If there’s a deterioration of the situation, it could very well be the site could be re-inscribed on the list.” Meanwhile the Everglades is getting a huge boost by regaining this unfortunate designation. Still, the musical chairs regarding various endangered lists is a high stakes game which conservation groups are rightly paying very close attention to. Out of site, out of mind (or out of pocketbook, as the case my be), could be a death knell to a site less well-known than, say, the Galapagos.