RIO DE JANEIRO, (Tierramérica).- ''I was so surprised to see so many boats, an average of one ever two days, and so many tourists'' in Antarctica, Celine Ferrier, captain of the Tara, told Tierramérica. The research sailboat arrived in Rio de Janeiro this weekend, three months after leaving from Chilean Port Williams.
In addition to admiring ''the vast beauty of the Antarctic landscapes'' and seeing many penguins, seals and whales, the expedition faced ''unpredictable weather, with strong winds that would surge from one moment to the next,'' and a lot of floating ice that blocked their way, she said.
Sebastiao Salgado, the famous Brazilian photographer who participated in the voyage, said he was impressed by ''the volume and number of glaciers,'' the immense mountains and bays, and the wealth of fauna, in a ''translucid atmosphere'' that seems to warp distances. He was also moved by the penguins because of ''their capacity to survive and work under threat.''
Salgado joined the expedition as part of his Genesis project, which is backed by the United Nations and is an eight-year effort to capture areas still in their natural state and the vestiges of ancient civilizations.
New Nature Park
BOGOTA, (Tierramérica).- Environmental groups applauded the declaration of a new national nature park in the southwestern Colombian jungle of Florencia, considered the ''last stand of biodiversity'' in that area.
That region holds 1,300 hectares of virgin forest, secondary forest (a reforested area), pastures and farmland.
Manuela Hernández, a biologist from the public University of the Atlantic, told Tierramérica that it is urgent to preserve the forest, which provides essential environmental services in terms of geological stability and water regulation and quality.
According to the officials who announced the park on Mar. 10, there are 110 species of amphibians and reptiles in Florencia, making it ''an area of extreme herpetological diversity, comparable only to the parks of Santa Cecilia (Ecuador) or Iquitos, Pambopata and Alto Purus (Peru).''
The Colombian natural park system, with 42 protected areas, covers nine percent of national territory.
Eco-Preserve in Danger
MEXICO CITY, (Tierramérica).- The Cuatrociénegas ecological preserve, in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila, runs the risk of disappearing, Valeria Souza, researcher with the Autonomous National University of Mexico's Ecology Institute, told Tierramérica.
Cuatrociénegas is a series of some 300 pools of crystalline water in the desert, rich in microorganisms that form calcified structures, among them cyanobacteria that produce carbonate from microscopic algae.
It is thought that in the beginning of life history this type of ecosystem produced oxygen and changed the conditions for life on Earth. Study of the pools allows scientists to understand how biodiversity was created, says Souza.
The environmental deterioration of Cuatrociénegas, due to overexploitation of water sources and use of fertilizers, has caused the disappearance of the pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) and the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi).
Fish species are disappearing from the pools before there is even scientific documentation of them, Souza said.
Mining Companies in the Dock
LIMA, (Tierramérica).- Peruvian government prosecutor Martha Salinas announced on Mar. 28 the conclusion of an investigation into environmental infractions and crimes in the mining industry, and that presumed criminal liability had been found for 128 companies, including the two largest operating in the country: Mexico's Southern Peru, and the U.S.-based Doe Run.
Also facing lawsuits are officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mining who authorized the operations of the companies without appropriate environmental management programs, or without verifying compliance with environmental rules, said Salinas.
Mining is the leading export industry in Peru, but it is also responsible for the country's worst environmental problems in around 700 high-risk areas, especially due to dumping of toxic waste and emissions of polluting gases.
''The mining companies that have caused environmental harm will have to make economic reparations to the affected communities,'' Luis Flores, chairman of the congressional Mining Commission, told Tierramérica.
Serious Losses of Maize
GUATEMALA CITY, (Tierramérica).- Ongoing drought has caused damage to some 24,500 hectares of maize crops in the northern Guatemalan department of Petén.
''Since December it hasn't rained around here. I planted two hectares of corn and maybe I'll be able to harvest 15 'quintales' (46-kilo sacks), when in past years I harvested 40 quintales per hectare,'' said farmer Luis Ordóñez.
He told Tierramérica, during a visit to the capital with farmers calling for government assistance, that the drought losses affect 30,000 farmers in Petén.
Rainfall has been below average in the Guatemalan north and west since 2001, and lack of water has destroyed crops of beans and corn that are mostly used for local consumption, resulting in higher levels of malnutrition and even deaths of dozens of children *Source: Inter Press Service.
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