Ecology Programmes High Andean wetlands for people and nature
Argentina’s Pozuelos lagoon, or Laguna de los Pozuelos, is 25 km long and 9 km wide, set in a zone of extreme aridity and poor soils. Only certain species can thrive there, among them three types of flamingo, some 25,000 in all, who strut among flocks of other waterfowl, many unique to these High Andean wetland ecosystems. Pozuelos is a designated part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, which recognises key migration sites across the Americas, hosting more than 100,000 shorebirds per year.
The second target site is Peru’s Lake Junín or Chinchaycocha – the latter an amalgam of Quechua words for a species of Andean cat and “lake”. Once again, it is birds that represent the wetland’s most significant pool of biodiversity, not least the critically endangered Junín Grebe (Podiceps taczanowskii), which lives there and nowhere else. Grebe numbers have dropped due to mine pollution and extreme water-level fluctuations due to a hydro-electric plant. Level changes dry out nesting and foraging areas, causing breeding to fail.
Junín’s edges feature distinct vegetation zones, ranging from dense cattails to grassland, scattered bogs and other rocky highlands plants. Too many ranch animals in poorly managed enclosures damage this ecosystem’s integrity, as does unsustainable peat extraction for cooking and heating.
The problems in Pozuelos and Junín are typical of those found in High Andean wetland ecosystems. The former’s lack of a management plan makes for over-grazing and associated wetland siltation, with all the knock-on impacts on biodiversity. In Junín, the picture is similar, with additional impacts from actual and historical pollution from mining.
If we can redirect the trajectory of these sites and point them towards a healthier future then we believe that we can also provide a blueprint that can be applied to many other locations in the region.
Also a stronger civil society role is needed to bridge between actors, technical innovation is needed for restoring key ecosystems types and new governance approaches and agreements are needed to cement implementable action. Furthermore, government and private sector needs to recognise the societal value of wetlands and match this with investment to secure them for the future.
Lake Junín and Pozuelos Lagoon are experiencing long term declines that typify those of other High Andean wetlands. Their importance for both people and nature is unquestioned. Legal protections exist for both but are only patchily implemented. Their respective managers lack some key know-how, tools and resources to plan and engage with relevant stakeholders so as to facilitate change.
This programme will innovate, develop and equip the key wetland management stakeholders to deliver on their mandates and begin a reversal in the fortunes of both lakes. Its successful completion will help create a blueprint for tackling similar societal pressures on Andean wetlands, building the ground for a regional initiative.
Saving High Andean wetlands for people and nature is a programme of Wetlands International Latin America & The Caribbean.