Península Valdés, Argentina

March 4, 2012, 9:51 pm
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Image by Mannheim Jahn

Peninsula Valdes (42°05'-42°53'S and 63°35'-65°04'W) is a World Heritage Site connected to mainland Argentina.

Geographical location

The nominated World Heritage Site includes the entire Península Valdés, which is linked to the Argentine mainland by the Ameghino Isthmus in the Province of Chubut. The Península is limited by the San Matías Gulf, to the north and north-west; the San José Gulf, to the west; the Nuevo Gulf, to the south and south-west; and the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and south-east. Península Valdés lies between 42°05'-42°53'S and 63°35'-65°04'W.

This photo of Peninsula Valdes, Argentina, was taken during the shuttle mission designated (Source: NASA)

Date and history of establishment

  • Península Valdés was designated as an Integral Objective Touristic Nature Reserve by Provincial Law No. 2161 of 1983.
  • This reserve includes the following conservation units:
    • Punta Norte and Isla de los Pájaros Touristic Nature Reserves, which were established by Provincial Law 697/67; Golfo San José Marine Park, which was created by Provincial Law 1238/74
    • Punta Pirámide Touristic Nature Reserve, which was established by Resolution 9 of 1974
    • Caleta Valdés and Punta Delgada Touristic Nature Reserves, which were established in 1977.
  • In 1995, an intangible zone extending from Punta Arco to Punta Pardelas in Golfo Nuevo, was created by Provincial Law 4098.
  • In 1985, the southern right whale was declared as Natural Monument by the National Congress.
  • Inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1999.

Area

360,000 hectares (ha).

Land tenure

Mostly privately owned.

Altitude

From 100 meters (m) to - 35 m at Salinas Grandes, which is the lowest point in mainland South America.

Physical features

Península Valdés is a 4,000 square kilometer (km2) hilly promontory protruding 100 km out into the Atlantic Ocean, with a series of gulfs, rocky cliffs, shallow bays with extensive intertidal mudflats and sandy beaches, and islands.

The Ameghino Isthmus of 25 km of length connects the Península to the mainland and separates the San José Gulf, to the north from the Nuevo Gulf, to the south.

The San José Gulf is a closed bay linked to the San Matías Gulf only by a small passage on its north.

The Nuevo Gulf is a bay nearly completely enclosed by the Península itself and the coast of the Chubut province.

The shoreline of the Península extends for 400 km and represents 34% of the total coast of the Chubut Province.

On its eastern end is the Caleta Valdés, a cove 35 km in length with some islets on its northern inner point.

The Isla de los Pájaros is a small island (18 ha) located 800 m off the Península in the San Jorge Gulf, and connected to the mainland during the low tides. This island is very important for several species of coastal and marine birds, which form breeding colonies on it. The interior of the Península presents a generally flat relief with shallow lakes, as well as areas of salt pans, such as Salinas Grandes and Salina Chica.

There are no permanent rivers or streams in the Península and freshwater is in short supply. Soils are generally very shallow.

Climate

Península Valdés has a semi-arid climate characterized by an annual rainfall of 240 millimeters (mm) with significant fluctuations between years. During winter there are from 12 to 20 days of frost. Annual temperature amplitude is 10,6°C (from 15°C to 35°C in summer and from 0°C to 15°C in winter), being February the hottest month.

Vegetation

While the predominant vegetation is Patagonian desert steppe, 18 different communities can be found, representing a high diversity in such a small area. The number of communities represented in the area demonstrate its importance from the phyto-geographic point of view, considering that in the whole Patagonian region 28 communities have been described. Some 130 plant species from 41 families have been reported, with 38 species endemic to Argentina. Principle communities include tussock grasslands of Stipa spp. and xerophytic cushion grasses of Poa spp. interspersed with bushes of Schinus magellanicus and Condalia microphilia, among other species.

Fauna

 

caption Orca off the coast of Península Valdés (Source: Nuestro Mar)

 

Península Valdés is an outstanding sanctuary of fauna with numerous marine birds and mammals going there to reproduce, often in large numbers. These species find shelter and abundant food in the warm and productive waters of the Península and surroundings, and places to breed and build their nests on its coasts.

A population of southern right whale Eubalaena australis (CD) uses the clear and protected waters of the Nuevo and San José gulfs as mating and calving areas. Individual whales start to arrive in the Península by late autumn and the beginning of winter (from April to June). The results from recent surveys indicate that 1,200 whales were visiting the Península in 1990, and suggest that this population has been growing at an estimated annual rate of 7.1%. Should this rate had been maintained, then the current population may count around 2,700 individuals. In 1984, the species was declared as a Natural Monument by the Argentine National Congress.

The southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina forms a mating and calving colony on Punta Norte from late August to early November, reaching peak numbers during the first week in October. This is the most northern colony of the species and is the only continental one established on Argentine shores, as all other colonies are located on insular Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic areas. It is also the only one in the world that is said to be on the increase. The nominated site is also very important as a breeding point for the southern sea lion Otaria flavescens.

Several other species of marine mammals are found in the area including a stable group of orcas Orcinus orca. Orcas are highly predatory with a basic diet of fish and squid, although they have been seen preying on both young and adult sea lions, elephant seals and adult right whales in Península Valdés and elsewhere in Patagonia. These orcas use a particular approch for hunting; they rush into the shallow surf, strand itself on the beach near the prey and grab it in their jaws. Other species of small whales and dolphins present are the dusky dolphin Lagenorhynchus obscurus (DD), Peale's dolphin L. australis (DD), Commerson's dolphin Cephalorhynchus commersonii (DD) and long-finned pilot whale Globycephala melas.

Terrestrial mammals are abundant with large herds of guanaco Lama guanicoe existing almost everywhere in the Península. Other species present include the mara Dolichotis patagonum, Argentine grey fox Dusicyon griseus, culpeo fox D. culpaeus and Geoffroy's cat Felis geoffroyi.

Península Valdés has a high diversity of birds. There are 181 species of birds, of which 66 are migratory species. Seven species of marine and coastal birds form nesting colonies on 12 distinct sites scattered throughout the Península. The Magellanic penguin Spheniscus magellanicus is the most numerous breeder with almost 40,000 active nests distributed amongst five different colonies. Second to the penguin is the kelp gull Larus dominicanus with 6,000 active nests. Other colonial birds are the Neotropic cormorant Phalacrocorax olivaceus, black-necked cormorant Phalacrocorax magellanicus, great egret Casmerodius albus, black-crowned night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax and common tern Sterna hirundo. The site with the largest diversity of breeding birds is Isla de los Pájaros.

The intertidal mudflats and coastal lagoons are important staging sites for migratory shorebirds, including red knot Calidris canutus, white-rumped sandpiper C. fuscicollis and Hudsonian godwit Limosa haemastica.

Cultural heritage

Península Valdés was first discovered in 1779, by the Spanish expedition of Juan de la Piedra. At the beginning of the colonization of Patagonia by the spaniards the Port of San José and the Fort of La Candelaria were founded in Península Valdés. La Candelaria was the first human settlement to be established in the Península and lasted for nearly 30 years.

Local human population

There are 220 permanent residents at Península Valdés, half of whom live in the small coastal village of Puerto Pirámide. A total 56 sheep farms holding almost 80,000 heads exist throughout the Península. Wool is the main product.

Up to the middle of this century concessions were granted by the Government for the killing and commerce of sea lions, mainly for the leather and oil of the grease coat. Large-scale exploitation of sea lions took place until 1953, year of the last record. Nevertheless, the killing continued in the zone until 1960, and even on a clandestine way up to the '70s. Latter legislation for the conservation of the marine mammals prevented further commercial killings.

Throughout the Península, water supply is a problem, with freshwater transported to the various facilities from Puerto Madryn. Recently, a desalinization plant was installed in Puerto Pirámide with a capacity of 200,000 liters per day. This is estimated to be sufficient to cover the demand of up to 2,000 people, although the level of use varies with temperature and type of accommodation.

Visitors and visitor facilities

Tourism is a very important activity in Península Valdés and is not limited to any particular season, although the number of visitors peaks during late winter and early spring. In 1992, more than 85,000 tourists visited the site, and in 1997 the number of visitors rose up to nearly 140,000, of which almost 80% were nationals. Whale-watching is the activity, which attract most of the visitors to the Península; between 1993 and 1995, almost 40,000 people or 40% of the total visitation for that period, performed this activity. It has been estimated that whale-watching generates an income of about US$10 million per year. Facilities for visitors exist both in the Península and nearby cities such as Puerto Madryn and Trelew. The town of Puerto Pirámide, located in the southern coast of the Península, is the tourist center for the off-shore whale-watching. There is also a hotel at Punta Delgada. However, most visitors spend the night in Puerto Madryn. The road network, which connect the Península main attraction points with neighboring cities is well-developed; an estimated 83% of the visitors travel by car and remain in the area for periods of three days or more. Three visitor centers exist in the Península and they are now undergoing renewal.

Scientific research and facilities

Península Valdés has long been attracting the attention of the scientific community. Scientific research has been extensive, and was mainly concentrated on species of marine colonial mammals and birds. A partial list of references is given in the official nomination. Research programs have been implemented through the National Center for Patagonia, Smithsonian Institution, and a number of Argentinean Universities. The management plan for the site includes a research component, addressing different natural features (climate, geomorphology, soils, vegetation and flora, wildlife).

Conservation value

Península Valdés has an outstanding value as a sanctuary for wildlife and is of particular importance for some species of conservation concern. It has been estimated that around 50% of the world's extant population of southern right-whale visit its waters each year. The area is also important for other species of marine mammals and birds, which are decreasing elsewhere, such as the southern elephant seal. All these species attract a large number of visitors and represents a large source of income for the region.

Conservation management

A management plan, which re-defines the Península as a Managed Resource Protected Area (the Integrated Collaborative Management Plan) has already been prepared. This plan was endorsed by a the province authorities and establishes the zonation and management regulations for the entire area. Under this plan, the Provincial Tourism Authority will be responsible for the protection of the area, but decisions will be agreed with representatives of all stakeholders. The new management plan also expands the boundaries of this area, extending the limits in the Isthmus of Ameghino to incorporate new coastal areas. The area protected in Golfo Nuevo has been also expanded to provide additional protection to the southern right whale. In addition a buffer zone of five nautical miles has been established around the peninsula, thus expanding its previous marine component. There is also a buffer zone to the west, of varying width but protecting the isthmus from development pressures from that quarter. These areas coincide with the nominated site.

Management constraints

Conservation problems in Península Valdés do not appear to be serious at the moment, although impact of the tourist industry, commercial fishing and oil transport can be important. There have been concerns regarding the cumulative effects of tourists on whales with some reported incidents of boats approaching too close to nursing whales or harassing them. An incident reporting program has been initiated by the NGO Patagonia Ecológica, based on the distribution of questionnaires, which were designed to collect information on potential impact on whales due to the presence of tourists. Pollution of the waters of the Nuevo Gulf was mentioned as a potential threat to breeding whales, as it was the significant increase in oil tankers traffic.

Development of coastal areas has been mentioned to diminish the quality of Magellanic penguin breeding habitat and to reduce the penguin's reproductive success. Adult mortality rates are on the increase because of human-related activities. In some areas, offal is increasing kelp gull populations with a corresponding increase in the level of predation on penguin eggs and chicks, thereby lowering reproductive success. Península Valdés is one of the areas where human presence is of greatest concern.

Staff

Since the 1970's, there has been a corps of wildlife guards in the Península controlling activities which might affect wildlife. Local police and the National Coast Guards support enforcement. New provincial legislation allows for the reinvestment of part of the revenue from tourism activities to manage this area. This provides additional resources to supplement those allocated by the Provincial government, and the National and Provincial Tourism Authorities. As a result, in 1998 the number of wildlife guards increased by 30%. Also equipment for communications and patrols, including vehicles and boats for marine patrols, has been renewed. These now number five new terrestrial vehicles and two new boats.

Budget

No detailed information.

IUCN management category

  • Golf San José Marine Park: II (Provincial Park)
  • Punta Norte Touristic Nature Reserve: IV (Wildlife Reserve)
  • Isla de los Pájaros Touristic Nature Reserve: IV (Wildlife Reserve)
  • Punta Pirámide Touristic Nature Reserve: IV (Wildlife Reserve)
  • Caleta Valdés Touristic Nature Reserve: IV (Wildlife Reserve)
  • Punta Delgada Touristic Nature Reserve: IV (Wildlife Reserve)
  • Península Valdés Integral Objective Touristic Nature Reserve: VI (Nature Reserve)
  • Natural World Heritage Site - Criterion iv

Further reading

  • Bertelotti, M. Carribero, A. and Yorio, P. (1995). Aves migratorias y costeras de la Península Valdés: revisión histórica y estado actual de sus poblaciones. Informes técnicos del Plan de Manejo Integrado de la Zona Costera Patagónica. Fundación Patagonia Natural (Puerto Madryn, Argentina).
  • Blanco, D. and Canevari, P. (1995). Situación actual de los chorlos y playeros migratorios de la zona costera patagónica (Prov. de Rio Negro, Chubut y Santa Cruz). Humedales para las Américas. Informes técnicos del Plan de Manejo Integrado de la Zona Costera Patagónica. Fundación Patagonia Natural (Puerto Madryn, Argentina).
  • Campagna, C. and Harris, G. (1997). Southern right-whale in jeopardy. Wildlife Conservation v. 97 (Mar./Apr. '94): 49.
  • Campagna, C. and Lewis, M. (1992). Growth and distribution of a southern elephant seal colony. Marine Mammal Science 9: 34-47.
  • Campagna, C. and Lopez, J.C. (1997). Patagonian orcas, their behavior and survival. Wildlife Conservation v. 97 (Mar./Apr. '94): 44-51.
  • Carribero, A., Perez, D. and Yorio, P. (1995). Actualización del estado poblacional del pinguino magallánico Spheniscus magellanicus en Península Valdés, Chubut, Argentina. El Hornero14: 33-37.
  • Gandini, P., Frere, E. and Boersma, P.D. (1996). Status and conservation of Magellanic penguin Spheniscus magellanicus in Patagonia, Argentina. Bird Conservation International 6: 307-316.
  • IUCN (1996). 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. 368 pp. + annexes. ISBN: 2831703352
  • Payne, R., Rowntree, V., Perkins, J.S., Cooke, J.K. and Lancaster, K. (1990). Population size, trends and reproductive parameters of right whales, Eubalaena australis, off Península Valdés, Argentina. Reports International Whaling Commission. Special Issue 12: 271-278.
  • Tagliorette, A. and Lozano, P. (1996). Estudio de la demanda turística en las ciudades de la costa Patagónica. Informes técnicos del Plan de Manejo Integrado de la Zona Costera Patagónica. Fundación Patagonia Natural (Puerto Madryn, Argentina).
  • SENATUR (1998). Nomination of properties for the inclusion of Península Valdés on the World Heritage List. 32 pages + annexes.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.

 

Glossary

Citation

M, U. (2012). Península Valdés, Argentina. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155176

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