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Michael McCarthy: Inspectors wanted islands kept on the list. So what happened?

In matters of conservation, politicians overruling scientific advice is always a very dodgy business

One of the many headlines on the internet yesterday summed it up: "Unesco Says Galapagos Islands No Longer Threatened". But they are. It's simply not true.

Fifteen of the politicians on Unesco's World Heritage Committee may well have given the priceless archipelago a clean bill of health, but that is assuredly not what came out of the monitoring mission to the islands in April, by a team of Unesco officials and scientists from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

They have compiled a State of Conservation Report 2010 for the Galapagos, but you can't read it yet on the Unesco website as it's password-protected and only available to delegates at the current World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia.

But it's known that it recommended keeping the islands on the danger list, and talking to Unesco officials yesterday it became clear that the concerns it expresses about the islands' future are still very real. They focus especially on the continual risk of invasive species getting from the mainland to these islands, which are so special because they have developed in isolation.

For example, in the port of embarkation, Guayaquil in Ecuador, there are three different facilities which do not have the latest packing equipment or inspection procedures, as well as several disembarkation points on the islands themselves. Ideally, for bio-control, there should be only one in each case.

In matters of conservation, politicians overruling scientific advice is always a very dodgy business, and Wednesday's vote in Brasilia has question marks written all over it. It should set alarm bells ringing for anyone who cares about the future of the islands which were the cradle of evolution.