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Americas
1 Feb 2017

Irreplaceable: Mar Chiquita Lake, Argentina

Mar Chiquita Lake, Argentina © Pablo Rodríguez Merkel
By Zoltan Waliczky

At 45 miles (70km) long and 15 miles (24km) wide, Mar Chiquita in Argentina is the biggest salt lake in South America and the fifth biggest in the world. This hugely important wetland holds outstanding numbers of migrating and resident waterbirds, including half a million Wilson´s Phalarope Steganopus tricolor, tens of thousands of Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis and American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica.

The wetland also harbours several globally endangered species, such as Dot-winged Crake Porzana spiloptera and Crowned Solitary Eagle Buteogallus coronatus, both resident species, and three species of flamingo; the Near-Threatened Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis and Puna Flamingo Phoenicoparrus jamesi, and the Vulnerable Andean Flamingo Phoenicoparrus andinus.

It’s no surprise that Mar Chiquita bustles with birds; it covers a vast area of around 1.2 million hectares. It has been declared an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA) by BirdLife International, and  also designated as a Ramsar Site, a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve and a Multiple Use Reserve. Unfortunately, these designations haven´t secured the conservation status of this important wetland and it has been declared as an IBA in Danger since 2013. Major threats to the site include agriculture, deforestation and unregulated tourism. There is a high risk that the unregulated extraction of water for irrigation and other purposes from the tributaries, and particularly from the Dulce river, could markedly reduce or even totally dry out the lagoon. Growing water pollution from local industry and towns is also an important issue.

Aves Argentinas (BirdLife Partner) has been working at Mar Chiquita for many years, carrying out bird surveys, environmental awareness-raising activities and working with local stakeholders to improve the management of the IBA. They have recently completed a detailed mapping of the site, which includes a land registry of all the properties around the wetland. This provides essential information for the ambitious plan of getting the area designated as a new National Park in Argentina. Being a National Park would help resolve the crucial water management issues and also boost tourism -  which could create local employment opportunities and assist with both national and international promotion of Mar Chiquita. Aves Argentinas is working with the local, regional and national governments and other stakeholders to turn this dream a reality in the near future.