Refuge for fauna in the high Andes: Lake Poopó and Uru Uru

Monday, 26 August, 2013 - 18:45

Lake Poopó’s area has decreased by 50% in the last 25 years, with serious consequences for the populations of resident and migratory waterbirds. The reasons for this decline are still being studied. An Action Plan for the integral management of the Ramsar site is being prepared, based on factors which affect, or could affect, different characteristics of the site. The plan sets out to define the monitoring requirements to be able to detect changes in ecological characteristics and measure management effectiveness; reduce conflicts of interests; obtain funding to put management actions into practice; enable communication between sites, organizations, and stakeholders; and ensure compliance of local, national and international policies.

The importance of Poopó and Uru Uru for biodiversity

The Ramsar site of ‘Lagos Poopó and Uru Uru’ is located on the Andean altiplano, or highland plateau, in Bolivia, at approximately 3700 m above sea level, covering an approximate area of 967,000 ha. The two lakes are part of the Important Bird Area (IBA), ‘Lago Poopó y Río Laka Jahuira’ (BO017). Lake Poopó is the second biggest lake in Bolivia, after Lake Titicaca, which is shared with Peru. Lake Uru Uru is formed along the Rio Desaguadero before it flows into Lake Poopó. Both lakes are located very close to the city of Oruro, capital of the homonymous Province, with important industries and mining activity.

The lakes are endorheic, or closed basins, given that they have no major outflow. They represent important habitat for the species of high Andean Flamingos, especially during the dry season (May to September), coinciding with the southern winter. During this time of year, a significant proportion of the populations of Puna FlamingoPhoenicoparrus jamesi, Andean Flamingo P. andinus, and Chilean FlamingoPhoenicopterus chilensis migrate from the southern Andes (Argentina, Chile, and even the Andes of southern Bolivia). The area of these lakes is considerable, allowing large groups of these species to coexist during several months, until climatic conditions in the southern Andes improve. Species of Neartic migratory birds are present during the rainy season, which coincides with the northern winter (November to March). However, drastic decreases in the populations of these species have been detected since 2007. The reasons for these declines are still being evaluated, but preliminary results suggest that it may be due to loss of available habitat as a result of the reduced area of Lake Poopó, and the accumulation of solid waste around the shores of the lake.

Threats and solutions

Unfortunately, despite its enormous size and importance for resident and migratory birds, this Ramsar site does not have an Action Plan to mitigate and control the threats affecting it. In response, the project “Conserving important habitats for migratory Neotropical species at the Ramsar site ‘Lagos Poopó and Uru Uru’, Oruro, Bolivia”, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and implemented in Bolivia by the Centro de Estudios en Biología Teórica y Aplicada-BIOTA and Asociación Armonia (BirdLife in Bolivia), addresses this void. The project seeks to implement a diagnosis of the current situation of the wetland, an action plan in collaboration with local actors and government authorities, an analysis of waterbird habitat loss due to the reduction in area of the lakes, and a passive restoration programme based on creating awareness among local communities on the importance of conserving the natural qualities of the lakes.

Of the results to date, perhaps the most surprising has been the analysis of the receding area of the lake, given that in only 25 years, Lake Poopó has decreased by about 17,400 ha, representing almost 50% of its total area. The decrease in the wetland´s area of open water has been attributed principally to climate change, which, in conjunction with current hydrological conditions (high rates of evaporation, low rainfall, and low flow rates of the rivers flowing into the lake), mean that water levels in the lake are not rising. This has had serious impacts on the biodiversity which depends on the wetland, given that the salinity has increased, thus decreasing survival rates of some species, with subsequent consequences in the local economy. The decrease in the size of the lake has also been attributed to mining activities in the northern part of Lake Poopó. As part of the analysis, a study of changes in land use at the Ramsar site has also been planned in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the lake’s changing area, given that agriculture in the region has also increased. The change in size of the wetland has represented a considerable loss of available habitat for migratory bird species, the quantification of this effect will be concluded once the results of periodic bird censuses at the lakes have been analysed.

As part of the passive restoration, awareness campaigns have been implemented through an itinerant exhibition on biodiversity at the Ramsar site, made up of 11 mobile panels with information on Lake Poopó and Lake Uru Uru, the Ramsar convention, videos on flamingos, wetlands of Bolivia, the water cycle, and informative leaflets. To date, the exhibition has been seen by 5000 people and has been presented at 27 educational establishments. Due to the interest of children and teachers during environmental education activities, the formation of birdwatchers’ clubs has been planned for the second part of the project.

Finally, activities towards the preparation of an Action Plan for the Ramsar site have been implemented, based on the identification of threats and pressures in the region, as well as the results of the rapid assessments of ecosystem services. The Action Plan contemplates the formation of a public-private committee for the site´s management as well as specific actions at the sites such as basic zoning, basic management programmes, a monitoring and control programme for the lakes´ biodiversity and threats at and around the site, a communication and education programme, and a programme to promote scientific research in favour of the responsible and sustainable use of the region´s natural resources.

  • More information on the project:

Maria Sol Aguilar solsiaguilar@gmail.com  High Andean Wetland and Flamingo Conservation Programme Coordinator, BIOTA

Rodrigo Soria wilbersa@armonia-bo.org  Projects Supervisor, Asociación Armonia

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