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Sunday, February 7, 2016
Marcela Valente*- Tierramérica
- Governments, environmentalists and private companies have just under four years to establish joint management of 43 protected areas on Argentina’s Atlantic coast, one of the world’s most productive and best preserved biomes. From Punta Rasa in the eastern province of Buenos Aires to the Beagle Channel at the country’s southern tip, these protected areas make up a total of 1.6 million hectares, half sea and half land, along Argentina’s roughly 5,000 kilometres of Atlantic coastline.
Some of these areas are of international importance, because they protect unique species. For example, they are home to 50 percent of the world’s Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) colonies, and the only coastal breeding site of the Southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus).
Nevertheless, the currently protected areas are insufficient. Less than one percent of the sea is protected, and the sections which are protected are distributed unequally among the different biological regions.
With the goal of remedying this and other shortcomings, a programme was initiated in October 2010 to create the Inter-Jurisdictional System of Coastal-Marine Protected Areas of Argentina.
Management of the system will not be handled by the government, but rather by a non-governmental organisation, the Fundación Patagonia Natural (Natural Patagonia Foundation), with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and administrative support from the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).
Over the next four years, the governors of the provinces of Buenos Aires, Chubut, Río Negro, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego and the mayors of coastal municipalities will be joined together on a panel that also includes representatives of the national Ministries of the Environment, Fishing, Tourism and Foreign Relations.
Along Argentina’s Atlantic coastline there are 25 cities with populations of more than 10,000, including major ports such as Mar del Plata, Bahía Blanca, Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn in Chubut, and Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.
The goal is to strengthen institutional and social arrangements for the governance of nature reserves, improve long-term financing mechanisms, and select protected areas to be strengthened, redesigned or expanded. But it will also be necessary to convince the private sector of the value of biodiversity.
The coasts of Patagonia are made breathtakingly scenic by the endless blue water, rugged rocky shores, and a wealth of wildlife, including penguins, whales, cormorants, sea lions and elephant seals.
Farther out at sea there are vast stocks of commercial species like hake (Merluccius hubbsi), squid (Illex argentinus) and prawns.
But this wealth is threatened by oil drilling, over-fishing, tourism and urban and industrial pollution, oceanographer Guillermo Caille, the technical director of the project, told Tierramérica.
Oil production brings in two million dollars in revenues annually and accounts for 70 percent of natural resources-based economic activity in coastal areas.
The fishing industry represents 20 percent of coastal economic activity and generates 500 million dollars in export income annually, but stocks are shrinking yearly due to insufficient controls.
Tourism generates 100 million dollars in income every year and accounts for 10 percent of economic activity. All of these sectors depend on the resources that the project is seeking to protect. Wildlife watching alone brings a million visitors to the country every year.
Around 50 cruise ships carrying between 1,000 and 5,000 passengers each also visit the area, touching port in Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn and Ushuaia, said Caille. Some of the companies in this sector have adopted good practices to raise awareness among their staff and tourists.
Another threat to coastal and marine resources are the solid and liquid wastes produced by cities and industries.
In Caille’s view, there have been “significant advances” in the public sector in the last 20 years, while “greater progress is needed in the private sector,” which is why the project is targeting active exchange with private companies.
Oil spills and chronic oil pollution are the most serious problems associated with oil production.
“Those who benefit from the services of an ecosystem should also contribute to its conservation,” stressed Caille.
The Argentine-Chinese joint venture Pan American Energy – the country’s second-largest oil producer and the leading operator on the coast – have stepped up to meet this challenge.
Two years ago, the Natural Patagonia Foundation trained experts from the company, and two observers from the Foundation travelled on board exploration vessels to study the impact of oil industry activities on marine mammals, Elena Vicente, the head of the Pan American Energy environmental division, told Tierramérica.
Now a new joint initiative is in the works: specialists from the Foundation are going to monitor an oil production project from a deep-sea platform to prevent “any kind of contingency,” said Vicente.
Gerardo Dietrich from the fishing company Alpesca, a subsidiary of the South African group Irvin & Johnson, told Tierramérica that his company will also be participating in the project.
“These projects are always beneficial because they allow for a deeper understanding of the natural surroundings,” said Dietrich.
In addition, integrated management will help governments adopt measures that “discipline” everyone equally, he said, which means the commitment to conservation will not be limited to a small few.
*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.