Guillermo Harris on Conservation Efforts in Patagonia (continued)



Overhunting
Many of the amazing terrestrial species, including the guanaco, rhea, upland goose, and mara, are under the pressure of heavy hunting. Because the animals are considered pests by local landowners and in some cases a source of cheap food by local inhabitants, populations are dwindling.

Peninsula Valdes, for example, is a wildlife refuge of considerable renown, yet hunting of wildlife is permitted within its boundaries. The guanaco population there is less than a third the size it should be and declining. Terrestrial wildlife is undervalued by the people of Patagonia as a tourist resource. The governments of Chile and Argentina have yet to understand that uncontrolled hunting is destroying one of the elements that makes Patagonia unique. Its wildlife.

Petroleum/Oil Pollution
Oil pollution at sea is one of the most serious threats to the spectacular colonies of marine birds of Patagonia. Oil tankers dump their oily ballast at sea as they move back and forth between the oil fields in southern Patagonia and the busy ports of Buenos Aires and Bahia Blanca. Each year between 1985 and 1991, an estimated 41,000 Magellanic penguins died from oil on the shores of Patagonia (20,000 of these were breeding adults). Oil also affects many other seabirds, and marine fauna and flora.

Overfishing
Overfishing in the South Atlantic is seriously depleting the fish stocks of the region. Populations of one of the main target species, Argentine hake (one of the most common and sought after fish in these waters) will probably collapse within five years. This species is also prey for many species of the coastal wildlife of Patagonia, which of course will suffer the consequences of this decline. An unknown number of marine birds and mammals are also caught in the nets of over 800 pelagic fishing vessels working the South Atlantic.

One of the most serious declines in marine bird populations has been in the wandering albatross population. The albatross breeds among other places on South Georgia island, near the Antarctic, and feeds along the edges of the South American continental shelf off Argentina and Uruguay. Many birds are caught in the fish hooks of long line fishing vessels.


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