Mar Chiquita – South America’s second-largest waterbody, and the world’s fifth-biggest salt lake – harbours most of the planet’s Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis and nearly half its Andean Flamingo Phoenicoparrus andinus. Mar Chiquita means ‘little sea’. This vast salt lake ranges 70km by 24km. Mar Chiquita is a literal oasis – and its water, marshy fringes and surrounding grasslands throng with wildlife. Up to 318,000 Chilean Flamingos (Near Threatened) have been counted, their bubblegum-pink congregation boosted in winter with up to 18,000 Andean Flamingo (Vulnerable) and smaller numbers of Puna Flamingo Phoenicoparrus jamesi (Near Threatened).
In recognition of its importance, Mar Chiquita drips with official designations – it is a Ramsar site, an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA), a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve and a provincial reserve. But despite this, Mar Chiquita Lake is shrinking. Water is being extracted at an unsustainable rate and the lake is in very real danger of drying up.
This threat has spurred Aves Argentinas into taking action; raising environmental awareness, improving management of the site and clarifying issues of land ownership. But it is an uphill struggle. Further pressures, such as pollution, agricultural intensification, deforestation and unregulated tourism are hastening this vital wetlands’ demise.
In order to effectively combat these threats, Aves Argentinas has been instrumental in advocating for Mar Chiquita to become a National Park – offering the highest protection available within Argentina. It is projected that the Ansenuza National Park will protect up to 800,000 hectares of Mar Chiquita. “Being managed at the national rather than regional level guarantees greater protection” says Malena Srur, of Aves Argentinas.
Strengthening the local economy through nature-based tourism is fundamental to the project’s long-term success. “A vibrant ecotourism circuit at Ansenuza will lengthen the tourist season and generate sustainable livelihoods over a wider area. Local communities will become strongly committed to Ansenuza’s long-term conservation” says Srur.