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Los Glaciares National Park is a federally protected national park located in Argentina, more specifically in the Santa Cruz province (UNESCO, 2018). The park covers a total area of 726,927 hectares, of that total area an estimated 260,000 hectares are covered in glacial ice (LosGlaciares.com, 2002), as the name implies the park is home to many glaciers. Of those glaciers there are 13 major glaciers which are directly linked to continental ice masses, and 190 smaller glaciers which are not (LosGlaciares.com, 2002). Other than the namesake of the park, Los Glaciares national park is also home to two major lakes of Argentina, Lake Argentino and Lake Viedma. Lake Argentino is the largest lake in Argentina with a total area of 1,466 km2, while Lake Viedma is only slightly smaller at an area of 1,100 km2 (UNESCO, 2018). Another feature to note is the biodiversity of the park, as it is home to a range of biomes, ranging from cool temperate forests, to Patagonian montane steppe (WWF, 2018). These characteristics are only part of the reason it was inducted as a World Heritage Site in 1981 (UNESCO, 2018). In the following we will tie in how this area and its natural beauty meet multiple criteria to be a World Heritage Site.
Despite the fact that this is a World Heritage Site, Los Glaciares National Park has been a federally protected national park by the Argentinian government since 1937 (Oyola-Yemaiel, 1999). Due to its status as a national park, the area was already very well preserved by 1981, the year it was deemed a heritage site by UNESCO (UNESCO, 2018). The national park meets two criteria of UNESCOs guidelines, criterion vii, and criterion viii (UNESCO, 2018). There are ten criteria in total in UNESCOs guidelines, the first six of them refer to structures and areas of cultural significance, while the last four refer to areas of natural significance and beauty. (UNESCO, 2005) Naturally, a national park falls into the category of natural beauty and the criteria reflects it. Criterion vii in UNESCO’s guidelines is used to refer to an area that “contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance” (UNESCO, 2005) it meets this guideline due to the mountainous landscape which peaks at an altitude over 3000 meters, huge glaciers which cover over half of the park and could be up to 60 meters high, and due to the wide range of altitude-dependent landscapes that are part of the national park (UNESCO, 2018). Criteria viii refers to an area that is an “outstanding example representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features” (UNESCO 2005). Los Glaciares meets this criterion due to its namesake, the glaciers present in the park are an active display of the glaciation process that modeled landscapes throughout the world, and in this case, continues to model the landscape to this day. On top of that, the glaciers provide an environment conducive to research on climate change, (UNESCO, 2018) which brings up the threats present to this natural world heritage site.
Although Los Glaciares National park is both a world heritage site and a national park, those are both unfortunately merely suggestions to some people. According to research done by the organization Greenpeace, in the time period of 1997 to 2004 the glaciers had lost 42 cubic kilometers of ice a year, and the process has slowly been speeding up since then (Quinteros, 2004). Unfortunately, climate change is not the only threat to the park. The IUCN considers the state of conversation in the park as “Good with some concerns” as of 2017 (IUCN, 2017). The main concerns of both UNESCO and IUCN are focused on past and present overgrazing, forest fires, poaching, excessive tourism, and fragmentation from deforestation (UNESCO, 2018) (IUCN, 2017). The effects of overgrazing in both the park and surrounding areas has done a number of things to affect the biodiversity of Los Glaciares. For starters the inclusion of non-native livestock, such as cows, has depleted food sources for many native animals. (IUCN, 2017) on top of that, overgrazing from both domesticated and feral introduced livestock has changed the landscape in many areas, due to the amount of resources used by those species, and the process of farming those species causing deforestation through acquiring land for the livestock. Creating access roads to those farms has also caused dangerous edging affects and further fragmentation of forests. As a result of that, despite the farming taking place in surrounding areas and not the park itself, species that used to appear in large numbers in the park throughout the year cannot easily make their way into the park (UNESCO, 2018). One of the species that are heavily affected by this are the Guemal, a species of deer that has both been poached heavily and that at one point in time had a wide roaming range that included Los Glaciares national park. According to IUCNs red list of endangered species, the Guemal has suffered a 99% population loss and the roaming range of the species has decreased by 50% (IUCN, 2016) According to the official website of Los Glaciares National Park, populations of Guemal that include the park within their natural roaming range have decreased by 50-80% (LosGlaciares.com, 2002). Another species that has been affected in a very similar matter is the South American Gray Fox, another species which has been heavily poached and had its roaming range directly affected by livestock. In this case, however, the species’ population has not been markedly decreased. Rather, the gray fox has simply not been appearing in large numbers within Los Glaciares itself due to the aforementioned threats. (UNESCO 2018). It may not seem like it, but species disappearing from an area is a huge threat to a location’s status as a World Heritage Site as that is included as part of its natural beauty (UNESCO 2002), and can have negative environmental effects to the area in the future. Overgrazing and farming is the main source of these threats to the species, but that’s not the only way that it affects this park.
Overgrazing is also a major cause of the forest fire problem that affects the park and its surrounding areas. Overgrazing, which by extension causes deforestation, allows fires to more easily spread. (IUCN, 2017). Thankfully, Los Glaciares itself is home to a dedicated firefighting team and according to IUCNs evaluation of the park in 2017, the problem of forest fires is “deteriorating” and becoming less of a threat (IUCN, 2017). The final threat that gives this heritage site some basis for concern is the excessive amount of tourism that the area experiences. According to both UNESCO and IUCN’s evaluations of the park, the infrastructure present for tourism has caused deterioration of the surrounding areas equivalent to the edging effects of deforestation, albeit on a smaller scale. (IUCN, 2017) (UNESCO, 2018) On top of that, UNESCO has raised safety concerns about the state of the trails and “viewing docks” that were created for tourism, (UNESCO, 2018). With that being said, excessive tourism is still only considered a minor threat to the park due to the fact that access to the more secluded areas of the park is “naturally” restricted to those who have mountaineering experience to actually get there, but the status of that threat is still being closely monitored by IUCN, and the committee of the park (IUCN, 2017).
Los Glaciares National Park is a World Heritage Site that is valued for not only its natural beauty, but for its amount of unique features that set it apart from many other parks and even other Heritage Sites throughout the world. The fact that it is home to many biomes, many different species of wild life, and glaciers all together in one area makes this site one of the most unique on the list. Thankfully, all of that natural beauty is not as threatened as one would be lead to expect with the current state of threats to the naturally beauty present throughout the world. With all of that being said, this is an area that I can truthfully say I want to see in its entirety before those threats get more severe and there is not beauty left to see.
- Black-Decima, P.A., Corti, P., Díaz, N., Fernandez, R., Geist, V., Gill, R., Gizejewski, Z., Jiménez, J., Pastore, H., Saucedo, C. & Wittmer, H. 2016. Hippocamelus bisulcus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T10054A22158895. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T10054A22158895.en.
- IUCN. 2017. World Heritage Outlook: Los Glaciares National Park. Available at: https://www.worldheritageoutlook.iucn.org/explore-sites/wdpaid/2570. 10 November 2017.
- LosGlaciares.com. 2006. Los Glaciares National Park: Geology and Geomorphology. Available at: http://www.losglaciares.com/en/parque/geologi2.html#3. 25 March 2002.
- Oyola-Yemaiel, Arthur. The Early Conservation Movement in Argentina and the National Park Service: A Brief History of Conservation, Development, Tourism and Sovereignty. Universal-Publishers, 1999.
- Quinteros, Jorge. Impacts of climate change on glaciers around the world. 2004. Accessed at: http://www.greenpeace.org/norway/Global/norway/p2/other/report/2004/impacts-of-climate-change-on-g.pdf. 9 February 2004.
- Stuefer, Martin, Helmut Rott, and Pedro Skvarca. “Glaciar Perito Moreno, Patagonia: climate sensitivities and glacier characteristics preceding the 2003/04 and 2005/06 damming events.” Journal of Glaciology 53.180 (2007): 3-16.
- UNESCO. 2018. Los Glaciares National Park. Available at:http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/145. 30 October 2018.
- UNESCO. 2005. The Criteria for Selection. Available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/. 2005.
- World Wildlife Fund. 2018. Southern South America: Southern Argentina, stretching northward. Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0802. 2018.
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