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Saturday, February 6, 2016
- Argentina is creating protected marine areas at a rate of knots. In the last 10 years, the preservation of saltwater areas has expanded, and for the first time an Atlantic ocean zone is being added to the list.
In late November, Congress approved the creation of two coastal parks in ocean waters in the southern province of Santa Cruz, and a bill to create a protected area surrounding the underwater plateau known as Burdwood Bank made it through the lower house.
The Burdwood Bank is rich in biodiversity but highly vulnerable. It is situated south of the Malvinas/Falkland Islands which Argentina claims from the United Kingdom, and 150 kilometres east of Staten Island, part of the southern province of Tierra del Fuego.
It will be the first oceanic protected area within Argentina’s exclusive economic zone, but outside the jurisdiction of the provinces, which means it will be administered by the central government.
The Burdwood Bank initiative involves political, scientific and environmental actors who support the idea. The bill was approved nearly unanimously in the lower chamber and is certain to be passed by the Senate.
These steps “bring us much closer to the commitment to protect 10 percent of the seas by 2020,” Andrea Michelson, coordinator of the protected areas programme of the Argentine Wildlife Foundation (FVSA), told IPS.
Michelson was referring to Target 11 of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, signed by countries participating in the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) held in the Nagoya, Japan in 2010.
The goal is that “by 2020, at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas.”
The National Parks Administration says that in 2003, only 0.5 percent of Argentina’s coastline was protected. In November this year the area grew to 1.8 percent with the creation of the two parks in Santa Cruz, and with Burdwood Bank it will reach four percent.
So far, existing protected areas are all coastal: the Southern Patagonia Coastal Marine Park in the southern province of Chubut, and the Monte León National Park and the recently created Penguin Island and Makenke reserves, in Santa Cruz.
The creation of the much larger oceanic protected area at Burdwood Bank steps up the pace for reaching the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, named for the Aichi prefecture of Japan, whose capital is the city where the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits was signed.
“It’s very difficult to achieve the recommended 10 percent based only on coastal areas, and the protected zones would not be so rich and diverse if we did not incorporate part of the ocean,” said Michelson.
In the view of FVSA and other environmental organisations, creating a protected area that is purely oceanic presents enormous challenges for its management, which is entrusted to several state agencies and ministries, because it involves remote monitoring of a zone that is affected by many actors.
The bill proposes the name of Namuncurá for the new protected area, after Ceferino Namuncurá, a Mapuche Indian from Patagonia who died young in the early 20th century and is now in the process of being canonised as a Catholic saint.
However, the bank itself, where 34,000 square kilometres will be zoned for preservation, will continue to be called Burdwood.
Biologist Santiago Krapovickas, the coordinator of the Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonian Sea and Areas of Influence, told IPS, with respect to the creation of the oceanic area, that “this will be the first time anything like this has been attempted in Argentina.
“Those of us who work in conservation are very excited about this innovation, because it is a unique site in Argentine waters, a singular place, relatively unexplored and vulnerable, with species that have not even been described yet,” he said.
Because of the project, the Forum, an umbrella group made up of different organisations from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and further afield, is compiling scientific information about the area to inform people of the riches lurking in its depths.
The area in question is home to sponges, crustaceans, sharks, long-tailed hake, southern hake, Patagonian toothfish, rockhopper penguins, crested (Macaroni) penguins, varieties of albatross and petrel, Peale’s (black-chinned) dolphin, elephant seals and sea lions, and many other species.
Krapovickas explained that when a cold current coming from the Malvinas/Falkland Islands comes into contact with the underwater plateau, it stirs up the bottom, which is rich in nutrients, creating an ideal breeding ground.
He also said that, as the bottom is relatively shallow on top of the plateau, only 100 to 200 metres deep, it is reached by sunlight, allowing the growth of phytoplankton which are at the bottom of the food chain.
Krapovickas said that at present the bank is not under threat. It is not greatly sought after as a fishery, because there are other areas with easier access and current international prices do not justify the effort of fishing there.
Nor is there an appreciable risk from oil and gas exploration, at least for the moment, in spite of the Burdwood Bank’s proximity to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands. Exploratory drilling is under way near the islands, which are the subject of a sovereignty dispute and have been under British rule since the 19th century.
In any case, the coordinator of the Forum believes now is a good time to demarcate a protected area there. “It’s important for scientific research, which is a peaceful activity for the benefit of humanity,” he said.
In regard to monitoring the area, Krapovickas is confident that new technologies will allow monitoring and even research programmes from a distance. “It won’t be necessary to have ships or helicopters all the time, because we have satellites, including the Argentine SAC-D Aquarius, with remote sensors specially designed for obtaining marine data,” he said.
From now on, he said, the scientific community should be encouraged and trained to download that information and access knowledge that will allow the best possible preservation of that corner of the ocean.