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Two researchers from the University of La Serena have conducted studies of 17 wetlands in our region, ecosystems that today live a series of threats.

Climate change is defined, according to organizations in the environmental world, as the difference between a balance of climate status and another, that is, changes due to adverse effects that impact a given system.

wetlands2Among the associated impacts of climate change, the melting of ice stands out, which causes sea level to rise, violent climatic phenomena, such as droughts that destroy ecosystems and whose effects favor the development of fires, death and / or movement of species, and the appearance and disappearance of water mirrors and the destruction of ecosystems.

The Coquimbo Region is not far from all these impacts, it is more, for 60 years ago that there was no drought as large as the one it is facing today. Complete productive sectors have been falling, the death of animals on the rise and the uncertainty of farmers and peasants is increasing.

The question is, if the large river basins are affected, what about the wetlands that maintain a symbiosis of diverse lives and that also need water? Hence the importance of the study conducted by researchers from the University of La Serena to 17 coastal wetlands in the area, and that, under the perspective of the analyzes thrown, are highly threatened not only by the effects of climate change, but also by anthropogenic actions, that is, the hand of man.

According to the expert in wetlands and academic of the Department of Biology of the U. of La Serena, Mg. Carlos Zuleta, water mirrors, especially those in the region, have two major threats to climate change: one, that rainfall is decreasing, with very long periods of drought; and two, the anthropic use of wetlands, because people use them for different purposes, such as agricultural communities that use wetlands for planting and family gardens.

The researcher said that the impact of climate change associated with the melting of ice increases sea level, which produces flooding in coastal wetlands, altering ecosystems.

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“Coastal wetlands have high vulnerability to increased swells, that means that with the frequency that seawater penetrates the wetlands, the composition of water salinity is altered causing changes in biota, and the problem is that no all species withstand high salinity in the bodies of water ”, said the academic, one of the exhibitors of the international seminar" Coastal Wetlands in the Context of Contemporary Climate Change: experiences from Chile, Colombia and Mexico "of the COP25 citizen agenda, an event that It was held at the ULS and where they featured leading scientists.

In the Coquimbo Region, there would be around 200 wetlands, where ponds and other smaller wetlands are counted; However, those undergoing studies by the ULS are 17, which are the main and largest in the area.

“Apart from containing biodiversity and generating several ecosystem services, some wetlands serve as a great cultural point, since many religious festivals and celebrations are associated with them. In addition, they provide nutrient regulation of the properties of different species, so they are not simply water ponds that are in a certain sector, since they fulfill vital functions for the human being and for the regulation of nature, hence lies the importance of everything, knowing how to take care of them and from the legislation, knowing how to protect them, ”he said.

Asked about what measures can be taken to care for wetlands, both Carlos Zuleta and Víctor Bravo-Naranjo, two of the ULS experts who are investigating these ecosystems, said that “climate change cannot be stopped, but it can adequate measures can be foreseen and taken. One of the appropriate measures would be not only to conserve part of the network of coastal wetlands, but also to safeguard the basin that feeds them, and develop a rational management of it. ”

According to Carlos Zuleta, the political will is the one that has been lacking in order to generate greater protection of wetlands, “simply by declaring them as an ecological zone or of tourist interest, they could regulate and avoid, above all, possible damages to these ecosystems,” he said.

wetlands4"The problem in many places and not only in Chile is that we are in mixed systems, where the natural and the citizen are mixed, so that the anthropic function is generated, that is, that the damages are products of man and his actions" , said the academic.

Ramsar Sites

The ULS has had a leading role in the declaration of Ramsar sites in the Coquimbo Region, as is the case of Las Salinas de Huentelauquén and the Coastal Wetlands of Tongoy Bay, both public, two of the three sites with this denomination , to which Laguna Conchalí joins.

A Ramsar site is a broad figure and has a connotation of the sustainable use of wetlands, and in that sense, the new guidelines of the Convention indicate that human activities must be integrated into the sustainable conservation of wetlands; that means, using it reasonably for human consumption, irrigation, marine areas of multiple uses, that is, ecosystems provide services to man, but they must be used sustainably.

One of the most emblematic wetlands of the La Serena - Coquimbo conurbation is El Culebrón, and this one has not been without problems, due to its high visitation and the poor management of the care that the citizens themselves have had.

For Víctor Bravo, also an academic of the ULS and who, together with Zuleta, study wetlands, the big problem “apart from lazy dogs that prey on birds in this place, is that there is a high visitation rate, and due to the absence of a Zoning of the place, people access through any site, generating loss and fragmentation of vegetation, in addition to soil compaction. Formerly they entered with vehicles, which has been avoided for a couple of years, but it is to be considered that the footprints that leave these require at least 10 years of natural soil recovery, due to the pressure they exert, and although in this wetland this threat factor has been eliminated, if it exists for most of the coastal wetlands we analyze. ”

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What happens to the birds? “In the Coquimbo wetland there is a clear example of the effects of climate change in synergy with anthropic threats, for example, records show that since the 70 years there is no Snowy Plover on this site. This small bird that needs the dry sand of the coastal wetlands to be able to nest and live, the one that has been lost both by the advance of the urban border towards the coast, and by the increasing increase in the frequency of swells. Because of this, the bird has nowhere to breed, therefore, these birds are no longer seen in the Culebrón, but more north as in the mouth of the Elqui River and in the Punta Teatinos Wetland, at the northern exit of La Serena, where there are still areas of dunes with creeping vegetation, although not without anthropic threats, especially in summer, ”said Bravo.

While it is known that climate change is now, social awareness about this is young, and has yet to mature. Conservation figures have advanced, due to the declaration of Ramsar sites; However, much remains to be done.

For Zuleta, proposing conservation measures is very slow and entails high monetary value, there are not always the resources for studies, especially for Andean wetlands, where the big problem is to reach them, due to transportation and logistics That this entails.

Until the year 2015, at the Latin American level, there were 298 sites declared Ramsar. Bolivia takes the lead in this type of declaration, devoting greater recourse to the preservation of wetlands. Chile is owed, is in the 12 number of a total of 17. Clearly, far from the high standards of neighboring countries, and further away from Europe, which leads the way with its water and ecosystem directive, which have strict environmental care regulations.

Written by Patricia Castro, DirCom