By Claudina Gonzalez

There is a lot of talk about sustainable tourism. Public sector plans and programs, private products and enterprises, academic programs and curricula always and without exception include the concept of sustainability. A different discussion is whether this inclusion is merely declaratory or if it is accompanied by good, real, and verifiable practices.

What is certain is that the development of sustainable tourism is a continuous process that requires good planning as well as constant monitoring of its impacts, in order to introduce necessary preventive or corrective measures. Ideally, the tourist experience must be both satisfactory for the traveler and educational, understanding tourism as an opportunity to learn more about the natural and cultural environments, to value them, to protect them and to be able to transmit this message to others.

Each year, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) frames its work agenda with a theme. Recently, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2017 as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development” to highlight the potential of tourism and its contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That same year, the organization strongly supported the statement “Why Tourism Matters”. The evidence included sustainable tourism’s capacity to generate employment, its contribution to the global Gross Domestic Product, economic growth, promoting understanding between peoples, cultural conservation, the enhancement and conservation of the environment and development in general.

In Argentina, tourism constitutes an extremely dynamic sector of the economy. In 2018, the production of goods and services associated with tourism was 5.7% of GDP. Jobs associated with tourism were 1,269,070, or 6.2% of the total economy, in the sectors of hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, transportation companies for tourism purposes (commercial airlines, tourist trains, fluvial, maritime, automotive); and in the usage of beaches, recreational parks, reserves, museums, convention centers, fairgrounds and other spaces for the reception of visitors and related activities.

Tourism is an activity that is present and dynamic in all regions and, very importantly, it is mostly made up of micro, small and medium-sized companies (practically the entire sector: 99.1%).

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

However, all this activity must be properly managed. Careful management, respectful of natural and cultural values, is a commitment that must be assumed by governments at different levels, but also by host communities, tourism companies and providers, civil society organizations and, very importantly, the travelers themselves.

With sustainability as a focus, nature can drive a resilient economy in the long term. International organizations such as the Inter-american Development Bank and the World Bank, as well as the World Tourism Organization, reaffirm the value of nature tourism and its role in sustainable development: for poverty alleviation; as a factor for economic growth; as a tool for biodiversity conservation; and in its contribution to the fulfillment of key international agreements and conventions, such as the aforementioned “Agenda 2030”.

Argentina has an amazing endowment of natural resources that, with local and regional distinctiveness, extends throughout the country, forming a natural capital of great wealth and a tourist attraction of enormous potential.

Argentina contains enormous environmental diversity, outstanding for encompassing an almost complete gradient of ecosystems that include lowland subtropical forests, mountain forests, semi-arid subtropical forests, flooded savannas, deserts, humid temperate forests, grasslands, high mountain, marine and polar ecosystems. It contains the Guaraní Aquifer -one of the main subterranean freshwater reservoirs; it has the second-largest number of glaciers of any Latin American country; and is among the 15 countries in the world with the largest ice-covered surface, which makes it one of the main strategic freshwater reserves in the world.

Natural protected areas are an enormous attraction for tourism. According to information from the Federal System of Protected Areas (SiFAP), the country has more than 500 registered protected areas, of different jurisdiction and management, representing 13.29% of the national continental territory, with a total surface area of 36,947,536 hectares. National parks, interjurisdictional marine parks, national reserves, nature reserves and natural monuments, provincial parks, nature reserves, provincial reserves, municipal areas, private areas, wildlife refuges, Ramsar sites, Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites make up some of the country’s main tourist attractions.

This diversity of environments, terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, with their flora and fauna (vast collections of birds, fish, mammals, plants, amphibians and reptiles, among others), offers the possibility of thinking strategically about nature tourism as the engine of pandemic recovery, laying the groundwork for tourism to consolidate as an essential part of the national economy, framed within a broader agenda of sustainable development.

Nature tourism (including active tourism and ecotourism) was already one of the most developed tourism practices and one of the most in demand globally prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, with a growth rate three times higher than that of tourism in general, according to the UNWTO.

On the demand side, there are several social and demographic factors at the global level that explain this process of seeking nature and open spaces in travel: well-informed consumers with greater environmental awareness, on the one hand; and the densification and growth of cities, with lives marked by confinement in artificial spaces and affected by stressful situations, on the other. More than half of the world’s population lives in urban environments. This makes urban, artificial spaces routine and, by contrast, contact with nature in leisure time more valuable. In Argentina, the urban population is 92%. Unique and well-preserved natural settings, in contrast to other types of already saturated destinations, appear desirable and are highly motivating for this demand.

The natural scenery and the activities that take place in nature are desirable to tourists seeking transforming and memorable experiences in their travels. In addition to the above attraction factors, several studies point to the benefits of regular contact with natural spaces and the performance of activities in them, with positive impacts on physical and mental health.

From a developmental point of view, and given the enormous comparative advantages in terms of natural resources that characterize Argentina, a truly sustainable practice of nature tourism offers the opportunity to consolidate itself as an economically profitable and viable activity.

In addition, nature tourism tends to generate longer average stays and higher spending by travelers. The increase in the length of stay and expenditure variables can be explained, in part, by the variety of recreational activities that natural areas support. The greater the diversity of activities offered by a destination, the more attractive and interesting that area will be and, therefore, justify an extension of the stay with the consequent associated spending.

Sustainable nature tourism is, in turn, a vehicle for social development. This sector requires hiring local entrepreneurs and guides, and stimulates the development of tourism businesses (travel agencies, transportation, lodging, food, handicrafts, recreational and complementary activities), thus enabling the diversification of the productive matrix and the generation of local employment in many of the regional economies and communities that, in some cases are very neglected, and do not have the possibility of developing other productive activities.

At the same time, by including educational aspects and nature interpretation, it raises awareness among both locals and travelers about the importance of conserving natural environments, helping to minimize negative impacts on the environment.

In short, sustainable tourism (according to the UNWTO) is “tourism that takes full account of current and future economic, social and environmental impacts to meet the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

With the exception of a minority of natural protected areas created and devoted exclusively to scientific research, monitoring and environmental conservation, most natural areas conceive, along with the conservation function, a social function provided by the public use of these spaces, taking into account their recreational and educational tourism value.

In the generation of new protected areas as well as the proper management of existing ones, tourism can be considered a compatible activity, which requires providing destinations with appropriate infrastructure that prioritizes the planning and conservation dimensions in the public use of these spaces, and that enables access to and allows for visitation and enjoyment of natural destinations that are perceived as valuable but are still emerging.

There is an opportunity in the development of nature tourism. But also, and inseparably, there is a duty: to include sustainability in the daily activities.

By Alejandro Briones

Productive diversification is of utmost importance to improve the quality of life and economy of communities living in protected areas, without damaging the ecosystem. This is achieved by encouraging and empowering activities that are adapted to management guidelines that guarantee environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

To identify the various activities that can be promoted in a territory, initially a socio-environmental study should be conducted that focuses on the use of natural resources: how are they obtained, the history of that exploitation, eventual use (whether for self-consumption or sale), social organization, and obstacles or conflicts, among other analyses.

(CeDRUS)

The study allows us to know the context and the background of technical interventions, as well as to inform the joint social work that is deployed: in this instance the relationship generated between the technicians and the residents is key. This relationship is built through individual and group interviews, workshops where the inhabitants are the protagonists (in short, they are the ones who will or will not conserve the territory), and where the technicians only act as facilitators.

During these meetings, discussions elaborate the community’s environment, markets, and lifestyle relationship maps, among other group dynamics. Another technique that complements the workshops or interviews is participant observation: being able to live in the communities and observe residents’ daily activities gives us the chance to observe other relationships between people and nature.

Following are examples of productive activities carried out by the inhabitants of different protected areas or potential areas to be protected that, if well managed, are compatible with environmental conservation:

  • Livestock: The problem with this activity is that it is generally carried out without any planning or sales strategy. They have cattle as capital and sell them when they need the money and/or for self-consumption. As a consequence of this, the land has a high animal load, with resulting overgrazing and degradation of the ecosystem. In many cases, the cattle are old individuals that cannot be sold because there is no market for them. It is important to work together to develop a management plan, analyze the market and strengthen the marketing chain.
    It is also important, first, to carry out a study on the carrying capacity of the territory to define the maximum amount of livestock that can be supported in that area without affecting the attributes of the ecosystem and, based on that, to evaluate the best strategies.
    By carrying out good planning and a livestock rotation system, among other good practices, it is possible to conserve ecosystems by integrating livestock farming. In this scenario, the main market demand is for calves, which is favorable for the environment since they are sold a few months after weaning, limiting their time grazing on the land.

(Alejandro Briones/Natura International)

  • Activities associated with livestock raising: In addition, livestock raising can support various complementary activities that can be promoted to eventually reduce the animal load and improve the family economy. These include leather handicrafts (ties, saddles, instruments, etc.) and cheese production. These activities can be strengthened mainly with training in packaging and sales, searching for stable markets, marketing, etc. They can also be complemented with training in food handling, and sustainability certifications, among other possibilities.
  • Beekeeping: This activity is carried out by many communities, mainly for self-consumption and without any management. Usually, they go out to collect honey from hives installed in the hollows of some trees. Many times, the beekeepers have to cut down the tree in order to extract the honey. Therefore, there is room for improvement with training, installation of boxes, using an extraction room, and other actions.
    The sale and packaging of honey is also very important, since it is generally sold in used containers (bottles and/or jars) that have not been properly sterilized, which reduces the price and lowers the quality of the product. In addition, if good management is implemented, it is possible to obtain by-products that fetch a higher price than honey, such as propolis, pollen and wax. Beekeeping also improves pollination and therefore the production of local fruits.
  • Tourism: This is one of the main sustainable activities associated with protected areas and there is a lot of information about it. It is important to encourage not only ecotourism or hiking but also rural tourism or community tourism, where visitors can interact with the communities, learn and become involved in their way of life. This is fundamental for valuing the culture of the people who live in protected areas.
    Another strategy is to develop research tourism. There are many researchers from different parts of the world who are dedicated to studying certain species found within the protected area, and they can pay the communities in exchange for lodging, food, and other services.

(Alejandro Briones)

  • Fruits of the forest: There are various native plant species with edible fruits. Unfortunately, as a result of marketing, we have become accustomed to exotic fruits, leaving aside our native fruits. Beyond direct consumption of the fruits, there are also remarkable derivatives, such as carob flour, chañar rice, and sweet willow, among many others. One can look for ways to open new markets and promote these products.
    There are also many forage species. For example, the communities of the Chaco collect the fruits of the carob tree and store them to feed livestock in critical times. This is an important native species to prioritize for restoration, since the carob tree was historically cut for timber and continues to be harvested. It is a key species in various ecosystems and is often found along the banks of watering holes.
  • Wood: The harvesting of wood for firewood, posts for fences, or house construction is an activity that, if not carried out under proper management and control, can lead to degradation of the ecosystem. For this to be a sustainable activity, it is essential to carry out a forest inventory and mapping that allows us to know the structure of the forest as a whole, of each species in particular, and their distribution. From this, it is possible to plan how many individuals of each species can be cut annually so as not to affect the attributes of the forest, establish the sites where they can be extracted each year, and promote the use of dead wood, among other practices that guarantee the survival of the forest in perpetuity.

(Alejandro Briones)

  • Medicinal plants: Almost all of our ecosystems have medicinal plants that communities use. Many communities raise the need to not lose that custom and to be able to preserve that knowledge for future generations. Also, some people take these plants to the central markets and sell them in small bags or handfuls. One can add value to medicinal plants by packing them, registering them, and doing research on the specific components of plants by relating ancestral knowledge to the scientist in order to enhance their use and therefore their market.
  • Craftwork in wood, native plant fibers, and leather: It is usual among the inhabitants of protected areas to make handicrafts with different materials from the area, which in all cases are handmade without damaging the ecosystem, so it is another very feasible activity to promote and market, as a way to bring capital into the economic system of the territory.

(Alejandro Briones/Natura International)

  • Agroecology: Most families in rural areas have their orchard and/or farm, or had it at some point and, for various reasons, abandoned it. Most of them have been turned away from their traditional forms of production and encouraged to carry out new practices that incorporate the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and other compounds that damage the soil and generate dependence on these products. To solve this problem, it is important to raise awareness about ecological agriculture and to achieve some type of organic certification, among other strategies.

The activities that can be promoted or strengthened in a specific area to conserve ecosystem services are diverse, and many are directly or indirectly related to each other. Proper management is key to ensuring the sustainability of the territory.

Diversifying production and services makes it possible, to improve family economies and their quality of life, reduce risks to market changes, adapt to local biophysical conditions, make efficient use of locally available resources, avoid land degradation with consequent desertification, reduce the impact on the environment and even improve the ecosystem. In conclusion, it is a strategy that guarantees the adaptation and resilience of communities to climate and market changes and guarantees the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of a territory.

By Biol. Agustina Di Pauli

Today more than ever it is clear that we live in a dystopia. Every day, thousands of hectares of forests are deforested and burned, water and air are increasingly polluted, entire peoples are forced to migrate because of the devastation caused by mining companies and the advance of the agricultural frontier, children are dying for lack of access to drinking water, species are disappearing.

The fragmentation and simplification of ecosystems increase the spread of pathogens and the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases, such as the COVID-19 virus, which added to the scourge of the pandemic. Perhaps the first of many to come? How many more will it take to react to the global challenges that nature so clearly manifests?

There is no more time, matters such as the environmental crisis, the right to a healthy environment, and food sovereignty deserve a structural discussion. There is an urgent need to adopt an integrated approach to conservation management and to abandon obsolete models, try new approaches and be creative to keep pace with global changes.
There has always been a duality between production and conservation; today the challenge is to generate new integral paradigms, where production does not imply continuing to lose ecosystems, and conservation does not imply leaving people out.

Among the ideas that still prevail is that the development of societies is only possible through extractivist and short-term models and that preserving ecosystems is a whim of a conservationist elite with privileges. So, if there are poor people, we try to grow at any cost to give them something, instead of distributing the much that a few already have. Time has corroborated that these models, which favor exponential growth, only generate more poverty and that the environmental crisis only deepens pre-existing social inequalities.

The implementation of sustainable development alternatives in production processes probably takes a little longer than traditional models, but they project a more beneficial impact in the long term and not just for a few. The latter is what makes the difference, generating equity and consequently more prosperous societies.

One of the fundamental tools as a strategy to respond to the challenges of wildlife conservation, poverty reduction, mitigation, and adaptation to climate change are protected areas (PAs). But it happens that when we talk about PAs, we automatically think of true gardens of Eden where everything is intact and intangible, places without people where human presence is forbidden or detrimental. Something quite distant from the real use of the land on the planet and the way of inhabiting it.

In principle, it is necessary to reconnect with the original meaning of PAs as sources of natural biodiversity, but also as very important sites of social, cultural, and economic value; model sites for research and knowledge generation; ideal spaces for environmental education; buffer and regulation zones; sources of ecosystem services; places for entertainment and appreciation; the potentialities are infinite. Looking at it another way, without PA, the temperature of the planet would be even hotter and thousands of species would have been lost.

It is then necessary to rethink the relationship between PAs and society where, beyond researchers, technicians, and disseminators, it is the local communities that benefit from nature conservation. In this way, biodiversity conservation objectives will be favored almost spontaneously.

Properly managed, PAs can finance themselves and, even better, be engines of local development because they generate tourism-based economies. Therefore, PAs constitute real planning spaces where constructive dialogues can be generated with governments, indigenous peoples, local inhabitants, universities, and municipalities, intending to achieve, true policies of social inclusion, conservation, and sustainability through legitimate participatory processes. To achieve this ambitious goal, we must demand the strengthening of all those strategies that provide real opportunities for environmental protection, accompanied by activities that allow a more comprehensive, sustainable, and harmonious local development with the environment.

Without falling into naivety or utopia, we are aware of the chain of complicity and corruption that allows plundering and we also know that trying to change this is particularly difficult in Latin America and the Caribbean, places where murders of socio-environmental leaders abound. This being so, the option is to move as a bloc, as a people. But for this to happen, society, which today involuntarily accompanies the crises, must also become part of the struggle; and this is possible by improving the participation of local communities in PA management and implementing economic projects that provide the necessary technical proposals that allow producers to carry out sustainable activities and native communities to create their bio-businesses.

The latter is another essential issue when talking about conservation: the importance of indigenous peoples. There is growing evidence that ancestral knowledge and sustainable traditional techniques still preserved by many communities contribute to the protection of biological and cultural diversity. Since their conception, native communities have been preserving certain territories as “sacred sites” where no hunting should take place to allow the reproduction of animals and respect their natural cycles. In a certain way, these sites represent biodiversity hotspots, where the communities themselves play the role of guardians of their community territories and, in this way, could be thought of as small PAs intrinsic to a cosmovision.

A 2019 Science Advances study, conducted in more than 600 PAs in 34 countries, evidenced how PAs provide economic and health benefits to adjacent populations, especially impacting children’s health. The results showed that tourism implied direct benefits in terms of employment generation, improved infrastructure, and greater institutional presence in the area, especially in PAs with multiple-use areas, since they allowed sustainable access to natural resources. Besides, the environmental health of these areas resulted in better water and air quality, greater provision of ecosystem services, and functioned as important flood buffer zones.

There is strong evidence to suggest that investing in PA creation and nature tourism brings real benefits to local communities. An example of this in Argentina is the Iberá Project in the province of Corrientes, where one of the most striking transformations was that of some hunters who abandoned that custom and are now PA park rangers. Iberá is a clear example that no matter how long it takes to get it right, it pays to learn by doing.

Mar Chiquita Lagoon, a saltwater body of water located northeast of Cordoba and southeast of Santiago del Estero, is home to the largest clutch of Chilean flamingos in Latin America in the 2020-2021 breeding season.
Local conservation experts indicate that in recent months more than 300,000 individuals were counted and seven clutches of Chilean flamingos were observed. Flamingo censuses in Mar Chiquita began to be carried out by park ranger and member of the High Andean Flamingo Conservation Group (GCFA) Pablo Michelutti, and continue to this day.
The flights to count the birds are carried out at two times of the year, during the summer and winter. Three organizations collaborate to carry out the censuses: the GCFA, Natura International and the Cordoba Secretariat of Environment.

(Lucila Castro / Natura International)

The Mar Chiquita Lagoon and the Dulce River marshes, in addition to being the habitat and breeding place of the Chilean flamingo, are a migration point for the Andean flamingo (or great flamingo) and the Puna flamingo (also called the small flamingo), which is why three species of flamingos of the six existing in the world can be observed in the area. On the other hand, there are approximately 380 species of resident and migratory birds in the area, making the wetland one of the richest in the world in terms of biodiversity.
An adult Chilean flamingo can reach an average length of 100 centimeters, and has long legs and a curved beak, adapted for foraging in the muddy lagoon. They are born with grayish, brownish or white plumage. When they reach maturity, the feathers take on pink tones because the flamingos feed on algae and crustaceans native to the area, which contain pigments. Depending on where they live and the species they feed on, the pinkish hue of the flamingos’ feathers can vary in intensity.

(Yanina Druetta / Natura International)

How the censuses are carried out

The Mar Chiquita Lagoon and the marshes of the Dulce River extend over almost one million hectares in northeastern Cordoba and southeastern Santiago del Estero. Aerial surveys are the only viable way, for the moment, to estimate bird populations in such extensive wetlands.

During the flight, a census taker goes to each side of the plane to carry out the photographic survey. Together with the gauging methodology, these images are processed in software and are useful to directly count the number of individuals and which species inhabit the wetland.

Courtship and nesting

Some years, with the arrival of September and the increase in temperature, flamingos congregate in the wetland to begin courtship. There, flamingos of reproductive age gather in groups and perform a dance to attract mates. When they succeed, they mate.

(Yanina Druetta / Natura International)

If the process is successful, the flamingo couple builds a nest on the banks of the Mar Chiquita Lagoon, where a single egg is deposited. From there, the couple protects the egg until the chick hatches.
It is of great importance to generate instances of conservation in the sector. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Chilean flamingos are almost threatened, and their population trend is decreasing.
Flamingos are very sensitive birds. If frightened, they abandon the nests en masse, leave the site and leave the eggs and hatchlings to drift away. It is very important not to disturb them so that they can reproduce normally.

(Matías Michelutti)

A promise of conservation

The future Ansenuza National Park is nearing its creation. When it is established, the nearly one million hectares between the lagoon and the marshes will be protected under a legal framework, which will contribute to the conservation of these species.
Once the park is created, economic activities can be carried out around it in a sustainable manner, without affecting the local flora and fauna. In addition, with the new protected area, there will be new personnel and a specific budget dedicated to preserving the wetland.
To achieve the creation of Ansenuza National Park, environmental training and education of all the stakeholders involved in the establishment process is essential. In addition, it is necessary to develop agreements that will lead to the changes in land use necessary to create the area.

By Enrique Bucher

Wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems worldwide. It is estimated that half of the original area occupied has already been lost, despite international efforts, in particular the Ramsar Convention of 1971. This reduction obviously impacts biodiversity and the environmental services provided by wetlands.

The South American Gran Chaco is an ecoregion that is still rich in wetlands, although it does not escape the global regressive trend. The Chaco is not only affected by intense deforestation, but also by a parallel and equally intense process of loss of natural grasslands, both in terrestrial and wetland environments. Unfortunately, this loss has not received attention proportional to that given to forests, both at the level of public opinion and current legislation.

The Dulce River marshlands occupy the flood valley of the final portion of the Dulce River, which includes portions of Santiago del Estero and Cordoba. With an extension of about ten thousand square kilometers, they constitute an outstanding and very valuable example of the few remaining large surface fragments in the Chaco.

The region is characterized by a heterogeneous and complex landscape, which combines the course of the Dulce River, temporary and permanent lagoons, extensive grasslands, and bushes and cactus thickets, constituting a typical flooded savannah of pluvial origin. Within this vast region is the protected area of the provincial reserve and Ramsar site “Dulce River marshlands and Mar Chiquita lagoon” in the province of Cordoba. There is no counterpart with the same degree of protection in the province of Santiago del Estero.

(Victoria Lassaga / Natura International)

The role of floods and fire

Saline wetland grasslands are fundamentally conditioned by high soil salinity and also by two fundamental dynamic factors: the occurrence of annual floods and fires. Both are essential for grassland survival.

Annual flooding is caused by the annual overflows of the Dulce River, which occur between approximately March and July.

This sheet of water moves southward until it reaches the Mar Chiquita Lagoon, covering an area that varies annually depending on rainfall in the river basin, which can reach more than four thousand square kilometers. The flooding washes salts from the soil and provides nutrients carried by the river, facilitating the growth of vegetation. When the waters recede at the end of winter, much of the plant biomass produced dries out and is easily ignitable, giving rise to the annual period of fires, which have both natural (lightning) and man-made origins. Fire eliminates shrubs that compete with grasslands and produces rapid nutrient cycling and regrowth of grasses with high nutritional value for livestock.

Neither flooding nor fire are adverse processes that need to be controlled. On the contrary, if they are eliminated, the system can be greatly altered. The importance of these annual environmental pulses becomes evident when the environmental impact of their suppression is visualized. Soil salinity would increase, grasslands would be replaced by shrubs, and the landscape would be transformed into a much less productive salar with less biodiversity of birds and other species.

(Victoria Lassaga / Natura International)

Land use

The marshlands area was under indigenous control until around 1860, when the indigenous populations were displaced. Since then, the European population was always low, and cattle ranching was the main resource under exploitation. Livestock management was based on transhumance, a practice that consisted of moving herds away from the shore of the Dulce River during the flood season and returning them during the low water season. Such management was possible thanks to the almost total lack of fences. This practice is common in other pasture regions of the world, and is equivalent to the “veranada” that is practiced in the mountainous regions of Argentina when cattle are moved to the highlands in summer and returned to the lowlands in winter.

Threats

Since the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, new forms of water resource management and land use have appeared that seriously threaten the future of the wetlands.

Firstly, the increase in water consumption for domestic and agricultural use in the upper Dulce River has led to a decrease in the amount of water reaching the marshes, both in terms of total annual flow and the magnitude of annual floods. Secondly, there has been a rapid increase in land acquisitions in the region for the establishment of livestock and even crops in permanent fenced areas, thus making the continuation of itinerant livestock practically impossible, and causing changes in the natural vegetation due to the establishment of pastures and non-native crops.


As a result, there has been a significant modification of the landscape structure of the marshlands even within the protected area in Cordoba, which is very negative for regional biodiversity. In addition, these changes have provoked serious social conflicts with the original inhabitants of the area who practiced itinerant cattle ranching.

What to do

Unless the current threats are recognized and both the local community and regional authorities manage to implement adequate management measures, the subsistence of the Dulce River wetlands is clearly threatened. This requires immediate action based on an understanding of the ecological functionality of the Dulce River wetlands.
This includes first of all a rationalization of the management of the flow of the Dulce river to ensure the necessary quantity to maintain the ecosystem in its current condition, both in terms of water quantity and annual flooding pulse.

In addition, it is necessary to rethink current land use, which not only affects native pastures and local biodiversity, but also has very severe limitations for traditional agricultural and livestock use.
It would also be very important to create new areas within the wetlands under strict reserve conditions (without any type of use), in order to ensure the integral preservation of the ecoregion’s biodiversity.

Reference: Bucher, E. H. 2016. The uncertain future of the Chaco wetlands: the case of the Dulce River wetlands. PARAQUARIA NATURAL 4(2): 11 -18.

By Sofía Dottori Fontanarrosa

Mining activity is a type of production of extensive consumption of non-renewable natural resources. Due to its extractive essence, it implies the modification of the topography where it is developed. Depending on the type of deposit, mining operations can be metalliferous, non-metalliferous or application rocks, and according to the size of the project, the scale ranges from small-scale mining to mega-mining. The latter involves irreversible environmental and landscape damage.

In Argentina, 90% of mining is produced in open-pit mines and consists mainly of gold, silver and copper. Metalliferous deposits constitute the group with the largest share in the total value of production with 73.1%, followed by application rocks with 23.2% and finally non-metalliferous deposits with 3.7%. According to the World Bank, in recent years mining has not reached 1% of GDP. Besides, it currently represents 0.6% and generates less than 1% of the registered work in the country.

Open pit mining (Pixabay)

Surface mining is quite different from traditional mining, which is predominantly underground. This historical transition from one model to the other is based on the progressive global depletion of metals in high-grade veins, so that, as the concentration of the mineral contained in the rocks decreases, mining by underground mining is no longer profitable. Currently, more than 60% of the world’s mining is open-pit and applies leaching or flotation processing techniques to extract the minerals disseminated in the bearer rock.

All mining activities use explosives (usually AN/FO – a mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel) that cause mountain blasting and allow the pull out of considerable volumes of rock, resulting in the formation of the ‘open pit’. A single undertaking can cover up to 1000 hectares, remove to 300,000 tons of rock are removed per day, 100 tons of explosives are used and 100,000 liters of fuel and highly toxic chemicals (cyanide, mercury, sulfuric acid, xanthate, among others) are emitted into the environment in liquid or gaseous form.

Open pit mining (Pixabay)

The process generates enormous amounts of waste and effluents. More than 95% of the extracted rock becomes waste as it has no minerals of economic interest. To extract one gram of gold, up to 4 tons of debris are produced and approximately 1000 liters of water are used.

The dimensions of mega-mining and its waste are enormous. The open pit alone can measure more than 1.5 kilometers in diameter and up to 1 kilometer deep, the mine waste tips can extend over hundreds of hectares, and the tailings dams (dams for the storage of solids left over from ore processing) represent imminent health threats that deserve rigorous monitoring. These footprints are known as ‘environmental liabilities’ and are evidence of the impact that mining has on the environment.

Native flora and fauna do not escape the ecosystem imbalance. The deforestation of forest areas and soil degradation wipe out the invaluable capacity of these sinks to absorb greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. Edaphic soil cover is thus dislodged and replaced by parched, infertile and impermeable soil. This disturbance leads to the annihilation of habitats, the inability of water infiltration, the alteration of the natural drainage system and undermines the agricultural and livestock potential that the area has to offer.

Negative impacts come in all directions. From noise from blasting, crushing and grinding, to surface and groundwater bodies contaminated by uncontrolled spills.

Acid lake polluted by open-pit mining (Pixabay)

The use of explosives increases nitrate and ammonium concentrations, which triggers eutrophication of the aquatic environment. The suspension of particulate material reduces the texture of the substrate and attenuates the penetration of solar radiation, essential for the development of biota. On the other hand, in those areas covered by stagnant water, pathogens multiply, a sanitary risk for the entire environment.

In almost all of these types of projects, the companies in charge benefit from tax laws and demand subsidies from local governments for the provision of energy and water needed to operate. However, their royalties do not match the magnitude of the revenues obtained. The promise of economic growth is a discourse that is skillfully used to legitimize the activity.

The monopolization of mining leaves no room for the prosperity of other regional industries, such as fishing, agriculture and tourism. At times, disputes over land use rights trigger heated socio-political conflicts, especially in sectors where cultural heritage is perversely violated. The destruction of the earth’s crust, the overexploitation of finite resources, the immeasurable generation of hazardous and pathogenic industrial waste, question the ethics with which these practices are defended.

Open pit mining (Pixabay)

Protected areas are the light for the sustainability of the physical environment. They are not a lucrative activity but a holistic balm on all components of nature. They are altruistic spaces for the well-being of biodiversity, where ecological processes and human development coexist in a fair and balanced symbiosis. These geographically defined areas, protected by a constitutional legal framework, are the right instrument for the long-term conservation of ecosystem services.

That is why mining and protected areas are absolutely incomparable, as one is at the antipode of the other. While abusive and uncontrolled mining is the desecration of the planet’s geological treasures, protected areas are the gateway to resilience, sustainability and a harmonious connection with the Earth. To protect our natural resources is to reserve the abundance that future generations also deserve.

“We do not inherit land from our fathers, we borrow it from our children.”

– Indian proverb –

By Victoria Lassaga, Laura Steffolani, Rosario Espina and Andrea Michelson

The territorial work is one of the fundamental pillars of Natura International in its main activity: promoting the creation of protected areas. This year, as in all areas, the pandemic disrupted the work routine. Our task in the ‘old normal’ consisted of carrying out technical environmental and social surveys, workshops and talks with communities, key actors, other civil society organizations or academic entities and the different local actors that converge in these spaces, mainly representatives of governments, whether municipal, provincial or national.

 

Uspallata – Mendoza

 

This year, due to the isolation measures in the wake of the global pandemic, we face a great challenge: how to sustain contact with the territories at a distance. As the ability to visit the territories was completely limited, we had to look for other mechanisms to sustain fluid communication channels both among team members and with other actors. The situation forced us to rethink and rethink institutionally, with the conviction that our work has a very clear purpose that transcends us as individuals: the conservation of biodiversity in the long term.

Some of the sites we work in are isolated, with little connectivity or access to digital tools, as they are areas with a high conservation value and at a great distance from large cities, the focus of the main environmental problems. Communities of native peoples or high mountain communities with whom we work do not always have the resources – economic or technological – to guarantee good connectivity. This fact limited the communication we had with them. Some processes that needed to reach horizontal consensus were postponed, as we understood that mechanisms of participation through the virtual route might not be comprehensive and representative of the real interests of these local communities, and that the lack of participation due to problems of Internet connection deepened inequalities. In other processes, we managed to speed up the virtual communication mechanisms and were able to generate meetings for decision making and even trainings and workshops. 

 

Hippocamelus antisensis – Taruca.  Fuente: Mathias Jacob

 

The pandemic presented us with a great challenge to face both from the institutional point of view and from our individuality as professionals. But for those of us who work in conservation, the challenges do not paralyze us. On the contrary: they stimulate us. We have managed to sustain the projects despite the necessary social distancing. We looked for diverse and new ways to communicate and this allowed us to achieve great results: the signing of agreements with government institutions and working agreements with other foundations, the maintenance of periodic contact with the communities and key actors of each of the projects using diverse forms of communication, the realization of workshops, talks and training on the demand that the circumstances required, the strengthening of our information bases from a technical/scientific point of view and the revaluation of communication with others and others through our social networks.

The pandemic had a great global impact as it affected the whole of society in different ways. It increased inequalities by leaving the sectors that suffer the greatest vulnerability more exposed, and challenged us to rethink those of us who are in a more privileged situation. The effect of the hand of man on the environment decreased significantly but the lack of monitoring by the agencies in charge also. For example, deforestation rates in Argentina increased significantly.

There was a great learning in the pandemic: although the distance was a new challenge to solve, it awakened our creativity when looking for solutions. We cannot take any steps back now: it is very likely that the strategies for economic reactivation will come from extractive processes. That is reason enough to reinforce our commitment to continue promoting clean economies to conserve our limited natural resources through new protected areas.

By Biól. Cristian Schneider

Santa Victoria – Salta – Source: Alejandro Briones CeDRUS

Although since the sanction of the National Law 26331 of “Minimum Budgets for the Environmental Protection of Native Forests” in 2007 – a law that arose from massive citizen pressure and the work of countless political and civil society actors – the rate of deforestation that had been taking place decreased considerably, even so 2. 8 million hectares of native forest were deforested from that year until 2018.

One third of this deforestation occurred in Category I and II Red and Yellow Zones of protection where the prohibition of deforestation is absolute, and another third in native forests that are not categorized! Yes, there are provinces with native forest ecosystems that not only were not included in some Category, but also allow their clearing (the “invisible forests”, that’s what they become)

The remaining third of the deforestation occurred in Category III Green Areas, which far from the opportunity to materialize sustainable models of use and restoration of forest ecosystems in a state of degradation, were the variable of total sacrifice and transformation of them, even on sites in good state of conservation. Recalling that by the National Constitution the original dominion over natural resources belongs to the provincial jurisdictions, and that through the provincial Native Forest Territorial Ordinances (OTBN), planning, implementation and control decisions were taken by these governments, the responsibility then for this environmental destruction has been of these governments, in contexts of national economic and productive macro policies that promoted and deepened it.

Is this the spirit that governments understand of our country’s most important environmental law? of the first Minimum Budget Law that cost so much effort to obtain, that we invoked so much from the citizens at the moment of demanding the defense of our environment? Why is it so difficult today to obtain the government’s willingness to make laws true instruments of territorial environmental policy and not mere statements of intent? And if the will to comply is not there, are we going to prioritize eternal reforms to obtain concrete implementation facts?

Do we need laws that only state something? We do not need the laws instituted, even in the generality of the scales in their letter, to be unavoidable and tangible commitments in the responsibility of the defense of collective, citizen and nature rights? It is undeniable that the economic and productive interests that promote these environmental problems and conflicts are very effective in their incidence and participation in the executive policies of the government.

 

Mar Chiquita – Córdoba – Fuente Yanina Druetta

 

Analyzing the case of the Province of Cordoba, we add that its OTBN is overdue and pending update since 2015 (similar situation with the vast majority of provinces), in a refusal to convene a transparent citizen participatory process – which is demanded by Law 26331 and other COFEMA regulations. Citizen participation which is even mentioned in Law 10208/14 on Environmental Policy, which institutes the Provincial and Municipal Environmental Territorial Ordinances still owed. How then is the social participation of the communities affected by these problems considered in the construction of public policies, if the letter of the laws in force is not even minimally fulfilled?

With 30 provincial Protected Areas legislated on 4 million hectares and not implemented in their minimum aspects, this year we suffered 340,000 hectares burned, a historical record surface in decades for the province, of fires mostly of human and intentional origin, already converted – even at national level – in the new bulldozers of the XXI century. And all this in a context of a global pandemic, caused by the same destruction of environments of the production models and use of biodiversity that govern us. And as a result, the social care mechanisms implemented today are negatively affecting the quality of our citizen participation, given the public hearings and virtual political meetings that are not dialogues, but convenient mechanisms to control the discussion, for those who, hopefully, can access these screen-spaces.

Will we reduce participation today to its virtual minimum expression, in this context of a pandemic – and in those to come – only achievable for those who can have quality digital access or who are allowed to do so, in an environment of absolute control of their results? The equation closes: control of participation yes, transparency and social license no.

 

Sierra de Famatina Rio Florentina – La Rioja

 

Where do we look? Discourses or participatory politics in the territory? We continue to be induced to superficial analyses of our environmental crises, and so we do not allow ourselves to think of a radically different model of politics, production and life than the one we are used to from governments, industries, economic capitals and the media? We decided to make it so?

The certainty will perhaps come when we massively demand and socially construct the space of decision on how we want and need to inhabit and live in our territories, and that is a deliberately invisible right, which the ruling classes have the habit of fundamentally relegating, in pursuit of interests absolutely alien to collective health and environmental justice.

By Lucila Castro, Director and Natura Argentina Team

It is clear that the pandemic had a devastating effect on the entire world. The number of deaths and the economic and social crisis left by the arrival of the COVID-19 make it one of the most tragic events that humanity has suffered in recent decades at the global level.

 

Bañados de Río Dulce – Santiago del Estero

 

However, this health disaster allows for other readings. The negative impacts on the environment have, in some cases, decreased throughout the year and across the planet. According to a report by the EEA (European Environment Association), there are some important points to note: the pandemic highlighted the interrelationships between our natural and social systems, and that the loss of biodiversity and intensive food systems increase the likelihood of zoonotic diseases closures caused by confinements during the pandemic may have some direct and short-term positive impacts on our environment, especially on air quality, although these are likely to be temporary; on the other hand, the COVID is not affecting all socio-economic groups equally, the less advantaged people are more likely to live in poor quality and overcrowded housing, which jeopardizes compliance with social distancing recommendations and increases the risk of transmission of the virus.

If we talk particularly about air quality, daily carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were reduced by 17% worldwide in the first half of 2020. NASA, for its part, showed surprising satellite images that reflect a marked and striking decrease in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions – whose main source is cars – compared to the pre-containment era.

 

Bañados de Río Dulce – Santiago del Estero

The question that now arises is whether the fight against climate change and society’s commitment to a healthy environment will continue once this situation is overcome. In short: Has this pandemic taught us anything? We’ve spent several months in confinement, saturated with routine and… What are we looking for now? Enjoy open spaces, fresh air, clean environments, avoid crowds, disconnect, breathe fresh air and forget about problems for a while. ¿ And where do we find all that? In nature.

Caring for – or better yet, not hurting – nature is an investment. This is the best decision to protect ourselves from this virus and prevent future diseases of this kind. We can take this situation as an opportunity to reflect on and understand not only the complexity of the environment and our inseparable link to it but also how vulnerable we are to the actions of degradation that we ourselves carry out.

We must maintain a healthy and respectful relationship with the natural environment. Taking care of the planet means taking care of ourselves.

By Ana Julia Gómez 

The Celebration of Protected and Conserved Areas and their people, consolidated, in spite of adversity, a window of collaboration and valuation of natural and cultural areas for the well-being of our region. 

The Declaration of the Protected Areas Day for all Latin America and the Caribbean was pronounced at the closing of the III Congress of Protected Areas LAC (III CAPLAC), on October 17, 2019, before 3123 participants from 58 countries. It immediately received the support of its organizers and current members of the III CAPLAC Follow-up Committee: led by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, and with support from the IUCN regional offices of South America and Mesoamerica, Central America and the Caribbean, the National Service of State-Protected Natural Areas – SERNANP Peru, RedPARQUES, FAO, National Natural Parks of Colombia, IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication, among others.

Logo for Celebración de las Áreas Protegidas de Latinoamérica y el Caribe

It is thus consolidated as the key support tool for the Lima Declaration and other agreements of the III CAPLAC. In 2020, we have 387 Celebrations registered by individuals, organizations and governments, in 18 countries in our region.

The Celebration of Protected Areas LAC, is recognized as a collaborative window for the valuation and articulation of protected and conserved areas and their people at a local and regional scale (Latin America and the Caribbean). The Celebration has an imprint of intergenerational and inclusive work that allowed for simultaneous integration despite a pandemic.

In its first version, it had a concrete and meaningful impact on all levels of protected area management and on the realities of women, youth, park rangers, indigenous peoples, communities and other stakeholders. The overall social networking reach, exceeded 30,000 people. Their innovative contribution was highlighted in information management options and the integration of valuable, little-known areas, through messages and proposals based on hope.

Some products co-managed are the Celebration Guide, the Map of Celebrated Areas with information and coordinates to interact, the Agenda of the Week of Celebration with events of people, organizations and governments of wide scope, the event of Launching of the Declaration of Lima – one year after the III CAPLAC – and the special transmission of more than 5 hours of music, dance, conservation proposals, yoga and good wishes. These celebrations were mainly promoted by 42 young ambassadors from 14 countries, generating a multilevel synergy that allowed the integration of regional political events, rituals, family meetings and official statements.

 

Drome Palapa – Comisión Turismo RARNAP . Source: www.celebracionareasprotegidas.org

The Celebration of Protected Areas LAC is led by members of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). His mentor Juan Carlos Pacheco (Fundación Áreas Protegidas -FAP- Chile) and Ana Julia Gómez (Fundación Hábitat y Desarrollo – Argentina). Also by María Augusta Almeida Ferri, Mariana Del Brutto (FAP), Lizbet Granados, Jaddira Flores Red de Jóvenes Líderes de la Conservación LAC (RELLAC-joven), with other active and decisive collaborators detailed in our web www. celebracionareasprotegidas. Org

So far we have the important explicit support of IUCN (regional offices of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, South America), UN Environment Latin America, RedPARQUES, Natura International in Argentina, RELLAC-Joven, IAPA ProjectAmazon Vision, Sterea and 12 Systems of Protected Areas, which are: Peru. National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (Supreme Resolution No. 030-2019 of the Ministry of Environment).

So far, we have the important explicit support of IUCN (regional offices of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, South America), UN Environment Latin America, RedPARQUES, Natura International in Argentina, RELLAC-Joven, IAPA Project – Amazon Vision, Sterea and 12 Systems of Protected Areas, which are:

  • National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (Supreme Resolution No. 030-2019 of the Ministry of Environment).
  • National Parks Administration. Declaration of Institutional Interest.
  • Natural National Parks of Colombia
  • National System of Protected Areas
  • National Commission of Natural Protected Areas
  • National System of State Protected Wildlife Areas/National Forestry Corporation
  • National Protected Areas Service Costa Rica. National System of Conservation Areas Uruguay. Ministry of the Environment/National System of Protected Areas
  • National Institute of Parks/Ministry of People’s Power for Ecosocialism.
  • Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development (Resolution No. 281 of the National Government)
  • Ecuador National System of Protected Areas

 

Secretaria CN-RBMA CN-RBMA. Source: www.celebracionareasprotegidas.org

 

This surprising response of integration by natural areas and cultural values for the well-being, inspires us and calls us to Celebrate the Protected and Conserved Areas and its people, with more strength in 2021. It challenges us to add actors, to guarantee spaces for new generations, with collaborative and transforming proposals.

Let’s keep celebrating!