Península Valdés

Country
Argentina
Inscribed in
1999
Criterion
(x)
The conservation outlook for this site has been assessed as "good with some concerns" in the latest assessment cycle. Explore the Conservation Outlook Assessment for the site below. You have the option to access the summary, or the detailed assessment.
Península Valdés in Patagonia is a site of global significance for the conservation of marine mammals. It is home to an important breeding population of the endangered southern right whale as well as important breeding populations of southern elephant seals and southern sea lions. The orcas in this area have developed a unique hunting strategy to adapt to local coastal conditions. © UNESCO

Summary

2020 Conservation Outlook

Finalised on
02 Dec 2020
Good with some concerns
The justification of the World Heritage inscription was based on the conservation values of the coastal and marine areas. In terms of habitat availability and protection from persecution and disturbance within the site, the previously massively harvested marine mammals have good conservation prospects. Population of southern right whale, the main flagship species of this World Heritage site and the main attribute of its Outstanding Universal value, continues to grow but at a decelerated rate. Unusually high levels of the Southern right whale mortality were observed between 2005 and 2014. Scientific research related to this issue is continuing and while it is essential to unravel the causes of previous massive mortality rates, the threat is considered to be low at the moment, considering the most recent findings. A number of threats, including coastal development, pollution and marine traffic, raises some questions and concerns in regards to long-term marine species survival and their habitat quality that need to be monitored and addressed by the site´s management. In terms of surface area, the site is mostly comprised of terrestrial areas. A century of private sheep ranching has strongly modified and degraded the Patagonian steppe. The state of the terrestrial areas has been stable since the inscription with no indications of major additional pressures in the foreseeable future. While an important conservation issue, the steppe areas are considered secondary in this assessment.

Current state and trend of VALUES

Low Concern
Trend
Improving
The coastal areas critical for the conservation of marine fauna are the main basis for the site’s Outstanding Universal Value, remain well-protected overall besides occasional disturbance. From 1970 up to this date, the population growth rate of the southern right whale has been between 5-7%, with most recent estimates showing annual growth rate of 3.15%, meaning that the population is growing but at a decelerated rate. The growth rate for the whole population is near a steady state rate, and this could be an indication that the area is getting close to its carrying capacity as optimal habitat. The resting, breeding, calving and nursery sites of pinnipeds are protected and mostly respected by visitors despite reports of occasional disturbance.

Overall THREATS

Low Threat
Compared to many other protected areas in the world, the current threats to the terrestrial and marine environments of the site, are not excessive. It is important to understand, however, that the former steppe vegetation of the peninsula has been modified by a century of sheep grazing and the removal or reduction of native mammal populations. This situation was accepted at the time of the inscription and has not fundamentally changed since. As inscribed, the World Heritage values are primarily restricted to the marine and coastal areas. Tourism has been growing with positive effects on the local economy but also side effects in terms of wildlife disturbance on land and sea, construction, challenges in terms of water and waste management. Unusually high levels of the Southern right whale mortality were observed between 2005 and 2014. Scientific research related to this is continuing and while it is essential to unravel the causes of previous massive mortality rates, the threat is considered to be low at the moment, considering the most recent findings.   

Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT

Some Concern
The site has a remarkably detailed management plan, elaborated through a participatory process fully taking into account that most land of the peninsula is privately owned and managed. The plan was developed and approved by law in 2001, but has not been updated since. By 2015, management effectiveness was moderately satisfactory according to a management effectiveness assessment (59.4% from the best-case scenario) (De Santos, 2015). Enforcement of any conservation provisions on private lands is still weak and have depended so far on the voluntary adoption by ranchers of conservation schemes promoted by non-governmental organizations. 

Full assessment

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Finalised on
02 Dec 2020

Description of values

High diversity and abundance of cetaceans and birds

Criterion
(x)
The mushroom-shaped Península Valdés forms two large gulfs (Golfo San José and Golfo Nuevo), which are protected from the harsh environmental conditions of the Patagonian Atlantic coast. Thereby marine and coastal conditions are created, which favor several cetacean species, such as the dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus, LC). The most spectacular manifestation of the importance for cetaceans are no doubt the globally important winter breeding and nursing aggregations of southern right whale (Eubalaena australis, LC). Some individuals of the resident orca (Orcinus orca, DD) populations have developed a sophisticated and spectacular hunting behavior named intentional stranding or beach-hunting, known only from the World Heriage site and one other location worldwide, the Crozet Islands (Taylor et al., 2013; Bubas, 2009). The orcas take advantage of the peak of high tide to prey on seal pups resting ashore prior to returning to the water with the help of the highest waves of the tide. UNEP-WCMC (2011) notes 181 species of birds, including 66 migratory species, while also pointing out important nesting colonies of several species of marine and coastal birds.

Large breeding populations of pinnipeds

Criterion
(x)
The long coasts of the vast peninsula host the northernmost colonies of southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina), the largest pinniped in the world (Hofmeyr, 2015). With the exception of one small breeding colony just outside of the World Heritage site, these are the only breeding population of this species in continental Argentina (Campagna et al., 1992), which otherwise breeds on the islands of the South Atlantic. There are also important populations of South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens). Both species have been slowly but steadily recovering from catastrophic historic decline due to massive commercial harvesting (Reyes et al., 1999). Some of the more easily accessible colonies of both species have become significant tourist attractions, along with the Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus), which is breeding in several important colonies on the coasts of the World Heritage site.
Important remnants of Patagonian grasslands
The peninsula is privately owned and used in its vast majority. For roughly one century sheep farming has been the main land use, thereby strongly modifying the native vegetation. Nevertheless, the semi-natural terrestrial ecosystem continues to be an important remnant of the coastal Patagonian grasslands, which have been modified and overused even more intensively elsewhere. Thereby, the peninsula is a haven for native fauna and flora. The most conspicuous and easily observable mammals include guanaco (Lama guanicoe, LC), a camelid and the only native ungulate, the mara (Dolichotis patagonum, NT), endemic to Argentine Patagonia and the South American grey fox (Lycalopex griseus, LC). The mammalian apex predator is the once common puma (Puma concolor, LC), an occasional visitor only today (see Nabte et al., 2009, for a complete list of mammals). The most conspicuous steppe bird is the Lesser Rhea (Rhea pennata, LC).
Remarcable geomorphology
The landscape of the Valdés peninsula (Bouza et al., 2016) is characterized by high cliffs, small beaches, coastal dunes, and an elongated gravel spit that separates a lagoon from the open sea on its eastern margin, leaving an open tidal channel at the southern of the spit (Caleta Valdés). Its particular geography between the sea and the continent has high aesthetic and biological value and is chosen by marine fauna as breeding or transient colonies. In Caleta Valdés the resident orcas (Orcinus orca) developed their particular behavior as foraging strategy (Bubas, 2009).

Assessment information

Low Threat
The threats to the terrestrial areas are limited and localized. The coastal and marine areas - where the World Heritage values are concentrated - are facing multiple threats from tourism, urban development, industry and marine traffic. 
Hunting and trapping
(Hunting and poisoning of native terrestrial fauna)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Illegal hunting continues to be a threat to native wildlife in the Península Valdés region, although the level of its impact has not been systematically assessed for the World Heritage site. Poaching is mainly associated to sheep ranching and to the opening of new dirt roads that results in increased accessibility to poachers (Baldi et al., 2017). Native terrestrial mammals, especially the guanaco, fox, and puma, have been impacted by hunting and poisoning in addition to road kills (Monjeau, 2011). Hunting is fairly common throughout the Peninsula, whereas poisoning appears to be limited to selected ranches only (Nabte, 2010). The principal threat to carnivores is hunting, both retaliatory killing or to prevent predation or presumed predation on domestic animals, especially on lambs. Predators like the culpeo fox (Lycalopex culpaeus) are very rare in Península Valdés, and pumas (Puma concolor) are chased and killed when detected. Although the occasional presence of pumas does result in active persecution by ranchers allegedly to protect their sheep, the occurrence of attacks has not been documented in recent years (Baldi et al., 2017). Some rural workers kill the smaller cats, foxes and mustelids, allegedly because they prey on lambs, although the impact has not been assessed in Península Valdés. Also, a common practice to kill predators is to spread poisoned meat and eggs which kills not only carnivores but also birds of prey, armadillos and scavengers. Antún et al. (2018) modelled the spatial variation in lesser rheas abundance within Península Valdés and found that human-related factors such as the distance to ranch buildings was negatively related to their abundance. The avoidance of human dwellings by lesser rheas could be associated with activities such as hunting and egg collection for consumption (Baldi et al., 2017). From a narrow World Heritage perspective, the threat is ranked as low due to the World Heritage focus on the marine values while noting that the removal of mammalian predators from terrestrial systems results in severe and complex ecosystem changes.
Tourism/ visitors/ recreation
(High and increasing visitor numbers)
High Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
Though visitor management is functional overall, increasing numbers of visitors have resulted in regular disturbance of the pinniped populations reproducing in the World Heritage site (Monjeau, 2011; World Heritage Committee, 2014). Lactating mothers of elephant seals are fasting while in the area, so they rely on blubber reserves for self-maintenance and nursing. Disturbance from human beings and dogs during this most sensitive phase can have devastating effects as energy reserves cannot be recovered. While massive tourism is controlled, tourists staying in private accommodations within the World Heritage site have unsupervised access to native pinnipeds or other fauna. Specific research to assess the impacts of this common practice in species behavior and fitness is lacking (IUCN Consultation, 2020a). Studies have shown that whale watching has some negative impacts on whale behavior elsewhere in Argentine Patagonia (Vermeulen et al., 2012). A pilot study on the effects of swim-with-whale programs at Peninsula Valdés showed short-term effects on southern right whale behavior (Lundquist et al., 2013 ). Visitors accessing intangible zones and performing recreation activities at unauthorized locations have been reported (La Nación, 2018; El Patagónico, 2018). 
Housing/ Urban Areas
(Informal beach settlements)
High Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
Non-authorized construction of housing and temporary shacks on the beaches currently is an important conservation issue, especially in Bengoa, Larralde and Punta Gales. Given the socioeconomic characteristics of occupants, this complex management issue is not being addressed. At the same time, it is an indication of less than rigorous management and it could grow to be much more extensive in the future. This in turn constitutes a threat in terms of increased disturbance of birds colonies and pinnipeds during reproduction (Monjeau, 2011).
Fire/ Fire Suppression
(Wildfires)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Regular anthropogenic fires to stimulate the growth of foraging grasses impoverish the native terrestrial ecosystems. The extent of biodiversity loss and degradation from wildfires is unknown (Monjeau, 2011). Wildfires are also common during the summer period, due to careless by visitors or started by lightning storms (IUCN Consultation, 2020e).
Housing/ Urban Areas
(Expansion of settled areas)
High Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
The steady and largely unplanned growth of the small town of Puerto Pirámides has been triggered by tourism. Impacts beyond the direct footprint on the land include poorly managed waste and increasing demand for freshwater in a semi-desert environment. The poor waste management has been linked to the explosion of the populations of kelp gull (Larus dominicanus) which feed on skin and blubber pecked from the backs of living right whales (Marón et al., 2015). While very localized, the factor is therefore ranked as a high threat.
Other
(Unusually high and unexplained whale mortality)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Disturbingly high mortality rates of southern right whale were observed in and near the World Heritage site between 2005 and 2014 (Wilson et al., 2015), with a peak in 2012 (116 whales, including 113 calves, i.e. 97 percent,
Thomas et al., 2013). Average numbers of 6 deaths per year during 1971 - 2004 jumped to 75 deaths per year during 2005 – 2014 (Rowntree et al., 2013). Sironi et al. (2018) reported 774 whales were found dead on the shores of Península Valdés between 2003 and 2017. The vast majority are calves, about 90 percent being younger than three months. High mortality rates in baleen populations is very unusual (Rowntree et al., 2013). The situation has been raising major scientific and conservation interest and concern, including by the International Whaling Commission. The leading hypotheses to explain the causes of unusual high mortality proposed at experts’ workshops and following-up studies are: a decline in food availability, biotoxin exposure and infectious disease, or a combination of these factors; the role of kelp gulls attacks on whale health and density dependent processes. Results of research suggest that dead calves of Península Valdés do not show signs of malnutrition (Maron et al., 2018). Chemical contaminants were considered less likely by experts brought together at the workshops. Kelp gull attacks are considered to be a contributing factor to some whale calf deaths (Thomas et al., 2013). The hypothesis that stress from injuries in the southern right whale (predominantly due to kelp gull attacks) negatively affects their physiological homeostasis and could be a contributing factor to calf deaths in this population continues to be studied (Sironi et al., 2018; IUCN Consultation, 2020b). Density dependent mortality processes have shown to result in a redistribution of whales along the coast rather to have an effect in mortality (Sueyro et al., 2018 ). Mortality descended from 2014 onward (IUCN Consultation, 2020b). Baleen mortality in 2019 was only 10 calves, 91% lower than the average calve mortality since 2003 (Sironi and Rowntree, 2019). From 1970 to this date, population growth rate is between 5-7%. Crespo et al. (2019) conclude that current annual growth rate is 3.15%, thus lower than two or three decades before (Sironi and Rowntree, 2019; IUCN Consultation, 2020b). While it is essential to unravel the causes of previous massive mortality rates, the threat is considered to be low at the moment, considering the most recent findings.   
Livestock Farming / Grazing
(Livestock grazing throughout most of the terrestrial part of the site)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Throughout(>50%)
Outside site
Most of the peninsula is privately owned and has been used for sheep ranching since the late 19th Century. Sheep grazing has caused major modifications in the steppe ecosystem and has degraded biodiversity (Blanco et al., 2017). The degree of biodiversity loss and degradation varies with grazing intensity, which is highest in the northeastern and southeastern portions of the World Heritage site. Although 80% of the land in Península Valdés is still devoted to sheep ranching, the overall stock is probably the lowest in decades (Antún and Baldi, 2020). The steppe ecosystem is less degraded as 15 years ago (IUCN Consultation 2020d). Nabte et al. (2013) documented how the grazing competition and harassment by sheep farmers poses a severe challenge to the conservation of the site's only native ungulate, the guanaco, while human-wildlife conflict affected the abundance of the puma, the terrestrial top predator. Antún et al. (2018) found that the location of ranch buildings, indicators of human presence, had a strong negative effect on lesser rheas, although their abundance increased at high sheep stocking rates. Antún and Baldi (2019) found that the location of ranch buildings had a strong positive effect on the abundance of maras (Dolichotis patagonum), presumably by providing protection against predators. However, they argue it is likely that the association could bring negative consequences for this and other species. Antún and Baldi (2020) identified that guanacos were more abundant at lower values of primary productivity and sheep stocking rates and further from inhabited ranch buildings, suggesting competition with sheep and conflict with humans. Although guanacos selected open grass-dominated habitats across sheep-free sites, fences dividing properties and paddocks played a significant role in the spatial structure of their population in Península Valdés affecting negatively the abundance of guanacos. Some landowners are currently implementing protocols of coexistence among sheep ranching and wildlife populations Despite facing threats, the number of guanacos in Península Valdés increased markedly during the last 25 years. Both the consolidation of Península Valdés as a protected area, inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1999, and the decline of sheep ranching could have contributed to the recovery of the population of guanacos. While it can be argued that the site has primarily been inscribed in recognition of the importance for marine mammals (World Heritage Committee, 1999; World Heritage Committee, 2014), basic conservation expectations apply to the entire natural World Heritage site. Given the World Heritage focus on the marine mammals, the threat is ranked as low even though the high grazing intensity is a fundamental concern for the conservation of the remnants of the Patagonian steppe.
Other
(Seagull attacks on whales due to increase of seagull population around urban waste deposits)
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Seagull populations, in particular of kelp gull (Larus dominicanus) have been steadily and rapidly increasing, probably taking advantage of poor waste management practices at urban landfill and from large amounts of bycatch at sea and at fishery (Sironi et al., 2009). Kelp gulls were first observed to feed on skin and blubber of living whales when they surface (Marón et al., 2015). The percentage of living mothers and calves with gull lesions increased from an average of 2 percent in the 1970s to 99 percent in the 2000s (Marón et al., 2015). This harassment, judged as a form of parasitism by some researchers, has caused the whales to modify their behavior, surfacing less completely and for shorter periods (Argüelles et al., 2016; Sironi et al., 2009). Gull harassment appears to be affecting the overall health and survival of newborn right whale calves at Península Valdés (Thomas et al., 2015) and may be a contributing factor to the massive increase in right whale mortality rates over the last years (Marón et al., 2015; Thomas et al., 2015). The hypothesis that stress from injuries in the southern right whale (predominantly due to kelp gull attacks) negatively affects their physiological homeostasis and could be a contributing factor to calf deaths in this population continues to be studied (Sironi et al. 2018; IUCN Consultation, 2020b). The prediction is that increased severity and extent of wounds will correlate significantly and positively with increased concentration of glucocorticoids (GCs) in baleen, and GCs will be highest in calves with many wounds, lower in calves with fewer wounds and least in calves that died due to acute trauma (e.g. shipstrike) (Sironi et al., 2018 ). While attempts to cull kelp gulls so far have not resulted in effective population control, a number of options have been proposed to manage the populations (Sironi et al., 2009).
Fishing / Harvesting Aquatic Resources
(Commercial fishing)
Low Threat
Outside site
Both the southern right whale and the southern elephant seal are only seasonally present in and near the site. Their main foraging areas are located far away from the site (Jonker et al., 1998; Campagna et al., 1995, Campagna et al., 2006). Lactating mothers of both species do not feed at all when in the area. Environmental change in their wide ranges and, in the case of the elephant seals, competition with squid  fisheries are plausible reasons for concern in terms of food availability (Kovacs et al., 2012) and entangled animals are relatively common (Campagna et al., 2007). As for fisheries, it is important to distinguish the near-shore commercial fishing, which is an important economic sector in Argentine Patagonia, and largely uncontrolled fishing elsewhere in the South Atlantic. While beyond the scope of this assessment, environmental change and intense commercial fishing must be considered as factors in the future of the site.
Shipping Lanes
(Pollution, spill risks and vessel strikes)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
The construction of a major commercial port in Puerto Madryn dates back to the 1970s as an integral part of the construction of the ALUAR (Aluminum Argentino) aluminum smelter. The smelter required both raw materials, primarily bauxite, and the shipping out of the aluminum products. Later on, in the 1980s, the port also became an important base of fisheries operations (fishing, factory and freezer vessels). In addition, the port serves many other transportation needs of the growing town and its hinterland (Puerto Madryn, Administración Portuaria, 2017). Every single ship to and from the port has to cross the entire Golfo Nuevo, which comes with threats in terms of disturbance, spill risks and vessel strikes (UNEP-WCMC, 2011; IUCN, 1999; Campagna et al., 1997). Currently, large-scale metalliferous mining with cyanide is prohibited in Chubut Province by the Law XVII-Nº 68. If the decision is reversed, augmented ship circulation would increase the level of this threat (IUCN Consultation, 2020c).
Low Threat
Development of the coast and sections of the privately owned hinterland is a potential threat requiring attention. At this stage, it does not amount to a major threat besides localized issues near the main settlements. If large-scale mining is authorized in Chubut, potential threats from the associated maritime traffic would increase considerably. Acoustic pollution caused by marine traffic across the Nuevo Gulf is being analyzed to identify the impacts on marine fauna, which would be useful for management.
Housing/ Urban Areas, Tourism/ Recreation Areas
(Coastal development in and around the site)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
There are strong incentives to develop coastal areas in and around the World Heritage site, such as Doradillo or towards the north of Puerto Madryn (IUCN Consultation, 2020c). Such development in the future would, among other effects, diminish the quality of sensitive bird breeding and marine mammal nursing habitat (UNEP-WCMC, 2011). 
Water Pollution
(Oil tankers passing the site)
Data Deficient
Inside site
, Extent of threat not known
Outside site
The IUCN evaluation (1999) noted potential threats of marine pollution from passing oil tankers, which was later minimized by moving the ship traffic from 5 to 25 nautical miles from the coast (IUCN Consultation, 2020c). If large-scale mining is authorized in Chubut this threat would increase considerably (IUCN Consultation, 2020c). Acoustic pollution caused by marine traffic across the Nuevo Gulf is being analyzed to identify the impacts on marine fauna, which would be useful for management (El Federal, 2019).
Oil/ Gas exploration/development
(Oil exploration)
Data Deficient
Outside site
The Government of Argentina has granted offshore hydrocarbon exploratory permits in the continental platform (INFOLEG 2020). While beyond the scope of this assessment, the effects of severe acoustic impacts on marine species, including those protected by this World Heritage site, must be considered as factors in the future integrity of the area.
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species, Diseases/pathogens
(Habitat degradation and predation on native wildlife )
Low Threat
Inside site
, Throughout(>50%)
Outside site
New localities of occurrence of the wild boar were reported for northeastern Chubut, from 2012 to 2020, increasing the geographic extension of this species in Patagonia by 135 linear km to the southeast (D'Agostino et al., 2020). The wild boar was recorded in Península Valdés in 2017 through direct and indirect evidence, and reports from local residents. Reported effects so far include soil removal and killing of sheep. Wild boar records seem to correspond to isolated individuals, probably dispersers. However, if the species succeed in settling across the area, it would pose a serious threat to the conservation of terrestrial and coastal wildlife, their habitats, productive activities and the safety of people (D'Agostino et al., 2020).
Compared to many other protected areas in the world, the current threats to the terrestrial and marine environments of the site, are not excessive. It is important to understand, however, that the former steppe vegetation of the peninsula has been modified by a century of sheep grazing and the removal or reduction of native mammal populations. This situation was accepted at the time of the inscription and has not fundamentally changed since. As inscribed, the World Heritage values are primarily restricted to the marine and coastal areas. Tourism has been growing with positive effects on the local economy but also side effects in terms of wildlife disturbance on land and sea, construction, challenges in terms of water and waste management. Unusually high levels of the Southern right whale mortality were observed between 2005 and 2014. Scientific research related to this is continuing and while it is essential to unravel the causes of previous massive mortality rates, the threat is considered to be low at the moment, considering the most recent findings.   
Management system
Some Concern
The Provincial Tourism Authority is responsible for the protection of the area, but decisions are agreed with representatives of all stakeholders, and implementation is carried out by a non-governmental management authority (UNEP-WCMC, 2011). The World Heritage site has a remarkably detailed management plan, elaborated through a participatory process fully taking into account that most land of the peninsula is privately owned and managed. However, implementation is limited. Major emphasis is on tourism management, and environmental education and interpretation (Monjeau, 2011).
Effectiveness of management system
Some Concern
An independent assessment of the management effectiveness found that only a modest 20 percent of the objectives outlined in the 2001 Management Plan had been achieved (Monjeau, 2011). One study found that threatened terrestrial mammals were least abundant in zones supposed to have the highest level of protection according to the management plan (Nabte, 2010). An assessment of the management effectiveness carried out in 2015 found that effectiveness was moderately satisfactory (59.4% from the best-case scenario). Finance received the higher score (84.4%, satisfactory), followed by the insitutional-political dimension (75%, satisfactory); staff (62.5%, moderately satisfactory); infrastructure and equipment (50%, undersatisfactory) and planning (40.3%, undersatisfactory) (De Santos, 2015).
Boundaries
Some Concern
The boundaries of the World Heritage site include the entire land area of the peninsula, superimposed on privately owned ranches, a 5 nautical mile marine buffer zone and half of the Golfo Nuevo. It is of certain concern that the marine area hosting the extraordinary and sensitive marine mammal populations, are not an integral part of the World Heritage site but rather a "buffer zone", suggesting the usefulness of re-visiting the configuration and status of the marine area (Monjeau, 2011).
Integration into regional and national planning systems
Some Concern
The World Heritage site is part of a provincial system of protected areas but the tangible implications are limited for the site as management of functional linkages with other protected areas is minimal (Monjeau, 2011; IUCN Consultation, 2020d).
Relationships with local people
Some Concern
Relationships between and among governmental, non-governmental, and special interest groups have historically been difficult because of conflict of interests over the use of natural resources. However, the Península Valdés Administration is an example of a participatory environment for many stakeholders. Another direct conflict are the tensions between tourism and conservation, even though tourism is entirely based on the area's natural conservation values. The elaboration of the management plans, however, invested considerably in the involvement of a comprehensive range of stakeholders. Consequently, improvements in local relationships have been noted (Monjeau, 2011). Private owners conserve their property rights and are involved in the conservation efforts and in the decisions of the administration of Peninsula Valdés (AANPPV instituted in the Law XI-30-ANEXO-A).
Legal framework
Mostly Effective
The World Heritage site is one unit of the Provincial Natural Protected Areas System (Provincial Law IX-20) of Argentina's Chubut Province. While some portions of the area were protected in 1983 as a multiple-use reserve by the Provincial Law No. 2161 (World Heritage Committee, 2014), the current 400,000-hectares Natural Protected Area was declared by the Provincial Law N° 4722 of 2001 (currently Law XI-20). A buffer zone of 5 nautical miles around the peninsula is an integral part of the site (UNEP-WCMC, 2011).
Law enforcement
Serious Concern
Law enforcement is patchy as control and surveillance is limited, just as the implementation of the management plan. Illegal activities, such as poaching is difficult to control on the large, remote and privately-owned ranches. Park rangers are insufficient, undertrained and not adequately equipped (De Santos, 2015).
Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Data Deficient
So far the World Heritage Committee has only taken two decisions, the original inscription decision and the more recent adoption of the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. The latter (World Heritage Committee, 2014) does not imply any follow-up. On the occasion of the inscription decision (World Heritage Committee, 1999), detailed recommendations to the State Party were articulated: "(a) ensure that effective controls are in place over any possible pollution threat from the town of Puerto Madryn to the waters of Golfo Nuevo, (b) support the efforts of the relevant authorities to secure the equipment needed to respond quickly to any oil hazard from passing shipping so as to protect the marine conservation values of the area; (c) produce a tourism management plan as an integral element of the overall management plan; (d) encourage implementation of the Integrated Collaborative Management Plan, and in particular to ensure that farmers and other private owners of land can play a full part in the development of environmentally responsible tourism; and (e) work at the international level to ensure that the marine mammals concerned are protected throughout their range". While the degree of implementation cannot be assessed within the scope of this assessment, the recommendations remain valid and deserve to be recalled.
Sustainable use
Some Concern
Resource use occurs across the land area used for wool production, while tourism is mostly concentrated in locations to observe coastal wildlife or on board to whale watching. Also, artisanal fishing takes place at particular sites by authorized individuals.  Regarding sheep ranching activities, in 2016 a group of private ranchers and rural workers started working in collaboration with researchers of the National research Council (CONICET) and NGOs to implement management practices in coexistence with biodiversity for a responsible wool production, reaching around 50,000 hectares under management. The ranchers of the Merino Peninsula Valdés™ group are committed to managing their ranches to allow healthy populations of guanacos, rheas, and maras to co-exist with their sheep, and to use non-lethal methods to control predation by pumas, chilla foxes, and Geoffroy’s and pampas cat (Cannizaro, 2019; IUCN Consultation, 2020c; WCS, 2016). While this is a significant step in the right direction, such initiatives need to be scaled up.
Sustainable finance
Serious Concern
The provincial government and visitor fees finance the management of the site. Undiversified funding sources derive in non-sustainable financial stability and make the site vulnerable especially when national and international tourism affluence diminishes (such as in 2011 and 2015 when volcanic activity in Patagonia affected the tourism activity, or in 2020  with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis). Budget of the area is considerably high in comparison to other provincial or even national protected areas. Failure in fully implementing the management plan is a result of decision-making challenges rather than on lack of funding (IUCN Consultation, 2020c). For example, budget rated as satisfactory in a management effectiveness assessment carried out in 2015, while other variables related to purchases (equipment, clothing, signs and infrastructure improvements) rated lower. This is an indicator of the lack of prioritization of those variables (De Santos, 2015).
 
Staff capacity, training, and development
Some Concern
Staffing is modest and the limited number of administrative personnel and rangers receive occasional training only. There is no overall staff training and development program. The site would benefit from increase in staff numbers, as well as additional equipment and vehicles (Monjeau, 2011; World Heritage Committee, 2014; De Santos, 2015). Recently, the University of Chubut based in Puerto Madryn created a degree program in administration of protected areas in order to improve and professionalize the work in the protected areas (http://udc.edu.ar/carreras/licenciatura-en-administracion-de-areas-naturales/).
Education and interpretation programs
Highly Effective
The most important educational and interpretation programme has been implemented and continued by the local Government of Puerto Madryn since 2004. "The children from Madryn meet the whales" reaches all children attending to 4th degree primary school each year. Municipal park rangers working at "El doradillo" beach go to every school to give introductory talks, reaching about 2,000 children per year. Subsequently, children and teachers are taken to El Doradillo, where the whales can be seen very close to the shore (El Chubut, 2019). Virtually all the children living in Puerto Madryn participate in this programme. Other programmes are needed to rise concern about other species and ecosystems across the area. 
Tourism and visitation management
Some Concern
Tourism is a core activity within the site: 316.350 tourists visited the area in 2018 (Gonzalez et al., 2019). Tourism contributes to the protected area finances and to the Provincial economy. Although the area does not have a tourism plan, the Provincial Tourism Organisation trains the tour guides of private companies. Excellent centres exist both on the isthmus and in the nearby town of Puerto Madryn (UNEP-WCMC, 2011; World Heritage Committee, 2014). Local NGOs provide educational brochures to visitors, such as the Guide for Responsible Whalewatching, distributed annually by the Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas (www.icb.org.ar) in cooperation with the Administration of the Península Valdés Natural Area. A recent study revealed that although tourists have a satisfactory touristic experience while observing seals, the guides do not communicate sufficiently the conservation problems of species and the marine habitat (Gonzalez et al., 2019).
Monitoring
Some Concern
Monitoring is restricted to individual activities by research institutions and non-governmental organizations. The work includes long time series of research on marine mammals published in respected peer-reviewed journals. The main concern, however, is the lack of any coherent overall monitoring of conservation outcomes (Monjeau, 2011). Systematic monitoring of physical, biological, economic, cultural and social indicators on the conservation values is lacking (De Santos, 2015).
Research
Mostly Effective
Península Valdés has long been attracting scientific attention of the national and international research community, with extensive research concentrating on the colonial marine mammals and birds (UNEP-WCMC, 2011), although many research projects are taking place in terrestrial ecosystems focusing on plants, soil, geology, archaeology, climate, arthropods, reptiles, terrestrial birds and mammals among others (Bouza and Bilmes, 2017). The Centro Nacional Patagónico, a cluster of research institutes from the Argentine Research Council, has consolidated many research programmes since 1970 when it was established in Puerto Madryn.
The site has a remarkably detailed management plan, elaborated through a participatory process fully taking into account that most land of the peninsula is privately owned and managed. The plan was developed and approved by law in 2001, but has not been updated since. By 2015, management effectiveness was moderately satisfactory according to a management effectiveness assessment (59.4% from the best-case scenario) (De Santos, 2015). Enforcement of any conservation provisions on private lands is still weak and have depended so far on the voluntary adoption by ranchers of conservation schemes promoted by non-governmental organizations. 
Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Some Concern
The threats stemming from outside the site, such as waste management and coastal development in the feeding areas of the marine mammals spending only part of their life-cycles in the World Heritage site, is not subject to any systematic management. This situation is not considered to be alarming as the external threats do not amount to fundamental threats at this stage.
Best practice examples
Whale watching activity has been implemented since the 1970s and contributed both to whale conservation through increased awareness, and the local economy. The development of whale-watching activities is under appropriate regulation scheme and has a management framework to reduce the impacts of the activity on whales and their habitats. These regulations have gained significant importance and are known internationally. From its inception, academics, researchers and conservation NGOs were all involved in the development of whale-watching in the area, leading to the developmnet of the whale-watching conduct of code by 2005 (IUCN Consultation, 2020e).
World Heritage values

High diversity and abundance of cetaceans and birds

Low Concern
Trend
Improving
From 1970 up to this date, the population growth rate of the southern right whale is between 5-7%. Crespo et al. (2019) concluded that current annual growth rate is 3.15%, thus population is growing but at a decelerated rate (Sironi and Rowntree, 2019; IUCN Consultation, 2020b). The growth rate for the whole population is near a steady state rate, and this could be an indication that the area is getting close to its carrying capacity as optimal habitat (Crespo et al., 2019). Unusually high levels of right whale mortality were observed between 2005 and 2014 (Wilson et al., 2015). Scientific research related to this is continuing and while it is essential to unravel the causes of previous massive mortality rates, the threat is considered to be low at the moment, considering the most recent findings showing much lower mortality rates (Sironi and Rowntree, 2019).   

Large breeding populations of pinnipeds

Low Concern
Trend
Stable
The resting, breeding, calving and nursery sites of pinnipeds are protected and mostly respected by visitors despite reports of occasional disturbance from tourists and dogs. Currently the population trends of marine mammals that breed at Peninsula Valdes (southern sea lions, and southern elephant seals ) are stable or increasing (IUCN Consultation, 2020e). The main concern are the feeding grounds far away from the site, which are under increasing pressure from excessive fishing (Monjeau, 2011; UNEP-WCMC, 2011).
Assessment of the current state and trend of World Heritage values
Low Concern
Trend
Improving
The coastal areas critical for the conservation of marine fauna are the main basis for the site’s Outstanding Universal Value, remain well-protected overall besides occasional disturbance. From 1970 up to this date, the population growth rate of the southern right whale has been between 5-7%, with most recent estimates showing annual growth rate of 3.15%, meaning that the population is growing but at a decelerated rate. The growth rate for the whole population is near a steady state rate, and this could be an indication that the area is getting close to its carrying capacity as optimal habitat. The resting, breeding, calving and nursery sites of pinnipeds are protected and mostly respected by visitors despite reports of occasional disturbance.
Assessment of the current state and trend of other important biodiversity values
Low Concern
Trend
Stable
The terrestrial parts of the World Hertiage site are a significantly large remnant of the Patagonian steppe. Most of the vegetation has been modified and degraded over many decades of sheep grazing, which is also one reason for the decline of native fauna (Monjeau, 2011; Nabte, 2010). Although the overall sheep stock is probably the lowest in decades (Antún and Baldi, 2020) and the steppe ecosystem is less degraded than 15 years ago (IUCN Consultation 2020c), human presence throughout the site continues to condition native species survival and abundance.

Additional information

Importance for research,
Contribution to education
The unique and spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities in several locations of the site, including some publicly accessible areas, offer exceptional opportunities for environmental education. The excellent visitor center at the entrance of the peninsula and the likewise excellent Ecocentro Mar Patagonia in nearby Puerto Madryn strongly contribute to the realization of this potential. There are high-quality research institutions in Puerto Madryn and a wealth of longstanding scientific cooperation at the nation and international level. Decades of work have produced an impressive body of literature on numerous aspects of marine biology, ecology and conservation.
Outdoor recreation and tourism,
Natural beauty and scenery
Tourism and recreation have become major factors in the local economy, including in the nearby town of Puerto Madryn, attracting visitors from all parts of the world.
Fishing areas and conservation of fish stocks,
Livestock grazing areas
The steppe is used in almost its entirety for grazing of sheep, horses and some cattle across most of the peninsula. Since colonization, livestock has been a main contributor to the livelihoods of the privately operated ranches. Fishing has become another pillar of the local economy since the 1980s.
Factors negatively affecting provision of this benefit
Overexploitation
Impact level - Low
Trend - Continuing
Tourism-related income,
Provision of jobs
Tourism and recreation have become a main element of the local economy and help buffer the decline of the Patagonian sheep wool industry.
The protected area has become a major factor in the local economy, directly and indirectly providing jobs and income for an important part of the local communities. The peninsula and in particular its important marine mammal populations are subject to intensive research. Last but not least, the site provides extraordinary opportunities for visitor experiences and education.
Organization Brief description of Active Projects Website
1 Fundación de Vida Silvestre, Argentina Building upon longstanding involvement in the conservation of the protected area predating its World Heritage inscription, Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina (FVSA) operates the San Pablo de Valdés reserve within the World Heritage site besides conducting and/or contributing to multiple other projects.
http://www.fvsa.org.ar/reservasanpablo/es/
2 Fundación Naturaleza para el Futuro The project aims at contributing to the systematic management of domestic garbage, a challenge in the site and throughout the province of Chubut.
http://www.naturalezaparaelfuturo.org/new/proyectos/cero-residuos.asp http://www.naturalezaparaelfuturo.org/new/proyectos/cero-residuos-english.asp
3 Programa de Arqueología Subacuática (PROAS) The project named "Relevamiento del patrimonio cultural subacuático de Península Valdés (Chubut)" uses non-intrusive techniques to better understand the magnitude and characteristics of underwater cultural heritage in the Peninsula Valdes and Puerto Madryn region.
http://www.inapl.gov.ar/invest/proas/proas_proyectos_peninsula_valdes.html
4 Instituto de Análisis de Recursos Naturales Evaluation and actualization of the Management Plan for the Valdes Peninsula Natural Protected Area.
http://www.iarn-ar.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21%3Aplan-de-manejo-del-area-natural-protegida-peninsula-valdes&catid=7%3Aproyectos-2004-2011&Itemid=37&lang=es
5 Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas / Ocean Alliance The Right Whale Research Program (Programa de Investigación Ballena Franca Austral) has been providing science based data to government authorities to inform sound decision-making to protect right whales and their habitat since 1970. Its right whale photo-id catalog is the most complete for the species in the world.
www.icb.org.ar http://www.icb.org.ar/especiales.php?tsid=2 http://www.icb.org.ar/especiales.php?tsid=2&amp;op=ver&amp;seccion_id=200
6 Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program (Universities and local NGOs ICB/OA, FPN) The programme monitoring of the health of the southern right whales of the Península Valdés started in 2003 and has since built the most complete dataset of biological samples for the species in the world, based on post-mortem examinations. It brings together a wide range of conservation actors and research institutions.
http://www.evotis.org/coastlines-v2/2014/1/31/the-struggle-of-the-southern-right-whale
7 British Antarctic Survey Research project aiming at a better understanding of the alarming mortality rates of southern right whale.
https://www.bas.ac.uk/ https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/22/southern-right-whales-bid-to-solve-mystery-deaths-argentina
8 Centro Nacional Patagonico (CENPAT-CONICET) CENPAT is the Puerto Madryn-based, multidisciplinary research center under Argentina's National Research and Technology Council (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas). It is engaged in numerous research projects of direct relevance to the World Heritage site.
http://www.cenpat-conicet.gob.ar/
9 IPEEC-CONICET / Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina/ Wildlife Conservation Society Conservation of wildlife in Patagonia: implementing sustainable ranching practices and mitigation of conflicts with native herbivours and carnivours. IPEEC-CONICET; FVSA, WCS under an agreement with the USFWS. 2019-2020.
https://newsroom.wcs.org/News-Releases/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/9376/Wildlife-Friendly-Enterprise-Network-and-WCS-announce-first-branded-traceable-certified-wool-from-Peninsula-Valdes.aspx http://merinopeninsulavaldes.com/ https://wildlifefriendly.org/fiberswithaconsciencepv/ &nbsp;
10 IPEEC-CONICET; Wildlife Conservation Society Península Valdés terrestrial mammals: Diversity, Ecology and Conservation. PICT project of the National Agency of Promotion of Science and Technology. 2020-2023.

References

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46
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