Peninsula Valdes: From paradise to inferno

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  Photo: Maxi JonasPhoto: Maxi Jonas

By Graciela Iriarte Falcoff and Mora Di Liscia
Translated by Dawn Penso
On the Atlantic coast of Argentine Patagonia is Peninsula Valdes. Located in the northeast of the Chubut province it is a wonderful place that also includes the Carlos Ameghino Isthmus, which joins it to the continent.
With a surface area of 4,000 square kilometers, Peninsula Valdes is a plain mesetiform, plateauing at the top with steep sides, interrupted by a collection of closed depressions to reveal an undulating character and softness within the landscape. The area receives sparse rainfall while windy and with many dunes. The geomorphological outline ends with coastal plains that border the peninsula.
The natural vegetation is the only resource foraged in the area. The main vegetable species in Peninsula Valdes are the evergreen tree molle, piquillín shrub, quilimbay, cat’s claw, the guanaco bush, mora herb, jarilla, carqueja, and coirón or Poa huecu, among others.
The great variety of animal species is another prolific aspect to Peninsula Valdes. The wildlife here arrive transitorily, completing their cycle of life. They offer an unusual spectacle that also have turned this area into an important tourism destination. Among the terrestrial fauna and the marine life we can find in this zone are: guanacos, a camelid; Darwin’s rhea, a large flightless bird; Patagonian maras and hares; European hare; gray and colored foxes; pichi and peludo armadillos; skunks; ferrets; pumas; wild boars; sea lions; elephant seals; whales and orcas; and various kinds of birds such as seagulls, cormorants and neotropic cormorants, penguins, flamingos, and others.
As such, this diverse biome is an important nature sanctuary for terrestrial fauna and marine life, and the tourism it attracts contributes important economic income to the region. Of note, Peninsula Valdes prohibits hunting through the entire year.
The only population center is the town of Puerto Piramides locality on the coast of Golfo Nuevo, an important seaside resort. Within this area, there are 56 livestock farms dedicated to sheep farming the Australian Merino breed, which is destined for the production of fine wool and meat.
The access to this beautiful place is via the national highway Route 3, entering through the provincial Route 2 toward Puerto Pirámides, which is just outside of the city of Puerto Madryn.
In 1999, this paradisiacal area was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO to encourage the conservation of natural habitats and the flora and fauna found here. 
Under the regulations of the Chubut province, Law 4617 establishes the system of Provincial Natural Protected Areas and Law 4722 creates the Península Valdés Protected Area. It establishes different protection zones, where there is a buffer area of Peninsula Valdés itself, which also enjoys the same protection in terms of habitat.
From paradise to inferno
On the first day of 2022, a large-scale fire broke out within a framework of inhospitable weather conditions, winds of up to 80 kilometers per hour and extreme heat. In addition to this, the lack of intelligence of those who were supposed to control the fire, the drought that has afflicted the area for some time and the increase of pastures made this event a raging and uncontrolled fire that devastated more than 80,000 hectares of fields. 
Photo: Maxi JonasPhoto: Maxi Jonas
Damaged light posts that left the town of Puerto Piramides without electrical service. Photo: Maxi JonasDamaged light posts that left the town of Puerto Piramides without electrical service. Photo: Maxi Jonas
The fire started more than 60 kilometers from the Carlos Ameghino Isthmus; however, it did not only reach there, but also ravaged the rural properties with all its strength, reaching the vicinity of Punta Quiroga, a place that borders the Golfo San José.
More than 20 rural producers saw their properties affected, which had devastating impacts, generating diverse damages, among them, the death of sheep and horses, the destruction of a large number of kilometers of perimeter and internal wire fences, mill installations, corrals, and more.
Further still, the damage to the local flora and fauna has been immeasurable, considering that the fire advanced toward the area of the Península Valdés Protected Area. It will take more than three generations to recover the habitat to a semblance of what it was before this terrible fire, since the vegetation in this arid area takes many years to regenerate.
With all the effort of those who fought against the fire, the solidarity of the victims and the weather conditions that accompanied it, the fire was thankfully extinguished on January 7th.
 Photo: Maxi JonasPhoto: Maxi Jonas
Photo: Maxi JonasPhoto: Maxi Jonas
 Photo: Maxi JonasPhoto: Maxi Jonas
Solidarity initiative
A Go Fund Me page has been created to fundraise for investments in material and machinery and to prevent future losses, such as fire that occurred at the start of this year. The funds will also be used for nature restoration and preservation.
The acquired funds will be reported on the page and are exclusively for purchasing equipment to combat fires. They are not to help any landowner who was affected by the fire.
To donate, click here.
Graciela Iriarte Falcoff is a retired psychologist from Peninsula Valdes, and her co-author, Mora Di Licia, is a journalism student at Palermo University in Buenos Aires. 

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