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Magellanic penguins in Patagonia.
Credit: Photo Stock
Argentina Creates Its First Marine Park
By Marcela Valente

The marine and coastal park of Argentina's southern Patagonia will protect biological and economic wealth, but will not completely ban its exploitation.

BUENOS AIRES, Sep 3 (Tierramérica).- Argentina's first marine and coastal park, intended to protect the rich biological diversity of the southern province of Chubut, is awaiting legislative approval.

The Southern Patagonia Interjurisdictional Marine Coastal Park, which will cover some 600 square kilometers of ocean and 200 on land along a coastal swath 100 kilometers north of San Jorge Gulf, in Chubut, also encompasses 40 islands in the Atlantic.

"It is going to be difficult in logistical and budget terms, but that shouldn't be an impediment," Pablo Yorio, biologist with the National Patagonian Center in Chubut and author of the study that gave rise to the protected area, told Tierramérica.

President Néstor Kirchner and Chubut's Governor Mario Das Neves signed a treaty in August that created the park.

"It will all depend on political will and on the administrative possibilities of the authorities in implementation. There is not much experience with marine areas, but there exists technical capacity and long experience in land areas, both in Chubut and in the National Parks Administration," said the expert.

While awaiting approval by the national and provincial parliaments, the non-governmental Natural Patagonia Foundation is working with Chubut authorities and the fishing and tourism sectors to demarcate the zones that require different degrees of protection, foundation biologist Ricardo Delfino told Tierramérica.

The cost of operating the park will be about 320,000 dollars a year, coming from the Chubut government and the federal government in equal parts, he added.

Penguins, killer whales, dolphins, sea elephants, sea lions, various whale species and other ecologically and economically important species will have park rangers to keep an eye on them, and work towards a better balance between development and preservation.

The chosen area is one of the most significant coastal sites because of its biodiversity and productivity, explained Yorio. Its protection will include objectives of conservation and sustainable use, with some restricted areas and others that will allow development of fishing and tourism.

"Protection does not mean untouchable," said the biologist, though he warned that caution must be taken with the petroleum industry, which currently has hundreds of tanker ships sailing along the Chubut coast each year, and with overfishing and its collateral damage, such as dumping of "waste fish" and accidental capture of birds and sea mammals.

North of the San Jorge Gulf is the breeding grounds of economically important sea birds and mammals, like the Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) and sea lions, whose colonies draw thousands of tourists each year. The imperial shag, or cormorant (Phalacrocorax atriceps), is the source of the guano industry -- bird excrement used as fertilizer.

The area is also where fish and invertebrate species that are important to the national and international markets reproduce, including king prawns and hake, and other species that are the focus of artisanal and sport fishing, like pejerrey, snook, salmon, shark and squid. There are banks of bivalves and fields of microalgae.

It functions as a resting, reproduction and feeding site for migratory species, and habitat for threatened species like the white-headed steamer duck (Tachyeres leucocephalus) and the Olrog's gull (Larus atlanticus).

All of this biological and natural economic wealth will be protected, he said.

The park was an initiative of the Natural Patagonia Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and will be under the jurisdiction of the Chubut government and the National Parks Administration. "In Argentina we don't have experience with a protected marine area. It all has to be defined. The characteristics of the park have yet to be delineated, as well as its management plan. We have the broad letter, but we need to work with greater precision," said the Parks Administration's Marcelo Cora.

This will also be the first time that the national agency manages a protected area in partnership with a provincial government.

But the Natural Patagonia Foundation and the Chubut government have a good precedent in protected area management plans, and the national government has two coastal parks, in the southern Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego provinces, Cora told Tierramérica.

The foundation has been working since 2001 to set up a protected area north of San Jorge Gulf, with the initial idea being that the provincial government would be in charge.

But the shared national-provincial jurisdiction "gives the park greater visibility without the province ceding authority over its territory," which sets a good example for other parts of the country that are in need of protection, said Delfino.

Furthermore, "it will allow the national government to comply with the Millennium Development Goal that requires the country to increase its protected areas," he said, referring to the targets set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000.

* Marcela Valente is an IPS correspondent.

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