Chile’s two new High Andean Ramsar sites

07/09/2009

The government of Chile has designated two more high altitude Wetlands of International Importance, and according to the supporting documentation, “both sites are located in the Antofagasta region and will be part now of the Ramsar site network in the high Andean northern Chile (administrative regions Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá, Antofagasta, and Atacama)”. Salar de Aguas Calientes IV and Salar de Pujsa are both centered upon saline lakes that are extraordinarily important for Western Hemisphere migratory birds, and both also support appreciable populations of mammals. Chile now has 11 Ramsar sites covering a surface area of 192,080 hectares.

Ramsar’s Assistant Advisor for the Americas, Ms Nadia Castro, has prepared brief site descriptions based on the accompanying Ramsar Information Sheets.

Salar de Aguas Calientes IV. 14/08/09; Región de Antogafasta; 15,529 ha; 24º59’S 068º38’W. This High Andean site (3,665m a.s.l.) is located in the deserted area of the Central Dry Puna of northern Chile. The saline lakes (salt pans) and azonal vegetation (meadows and bofedales) – wetlands caused by groundwater upwelling – sustain a rich and abundant wildlife. Similarly to the neighboring Ramsar site “Salar de Pujsa”, this wetland is a staging area (feeding and roosting) for interhemispheric migratory birds, such as sandpipers (Calidris bairdii, C. melanotos, C. himantopus, Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca, T. flavipes), and Wilson's Phalarope (Steganopus tricolor). Furthermore, the three high Andean flamingo species (Andean, Chilean and James’s), Darwin's Rhea (Pterocnemia pennata), Andean Goose (Chloephaga melanoptera), and Puna Tinamou (Tinamotis pentlandii), as well as the mammals short-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla brevicaudata) and vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), are present in the area. Currently there are mining concessions for salt extraction, which implies a conservation threat, either directly due to salt extraction from the surface or indirectly due to groundwater extraction. Ramsar site no. 1870. Most recent RIS information: 2009.

Salar de Pujsa. 14/08/09; Región de Antofagasta; 17,397 Ha; 23°11’S 067°32’W. Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. This High Andean site (4,530m a.s.l.) is comparable to an oasis in the desert – although it is located in the deserted area of the Central Dry Puna of northern Chile, groundwater flows to the surface naturally, which allows the formation of saline lakes (salt pans) and azonal vegetation (meadows and bofedales) that sustain the regional wildlife. The site constitutes one of the most important wetlands for the conservation of high Andean flamingos (Andean, Chilean and James’s), which are relatively abundant in the site (more than 1% of the global population, in all cases). It is also a staging area (feeding and roosting) for interhemispheric migratory birds, such as sandpipers, yellowlegs, and Wilson's Phalarope. In addition, the site stands out by the presence of large groups of austral vicuña (Vicugna vicugna vicugna), which graze in the meadows around the lake. The native communities Toconao and Talabre use the meadows and bofedales for grazing livestock (lamas and alpacas) and harvesting medicinal plants. Recently these communities, supported by the public sector, have started to take part in tourism activities in order to increase traditional household incomes. The Salar de Pujsa lies within the Atacama site, one of the 14 priority sites of the Wetland Network of Importance for Conservation of High-Andes Flamingos in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. Part of the Ramsar site is protected under the National Reserve Los Flamencos. Ramsar site no. 1871. Most recent RIS information: 2009.

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