Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

Atlantic Coast Reserve of Tierra del Fuego saved from Sand-mining Threat



Shorebirds in the Atlantic Coast Reserve, Tierra del Fuego. Photo by Jan van de Kam.


The Reserva Costa Atlántica de Tierra del Fuego (Atlantic Coast Reserve of Tierra del Fuego), Argentina, is a 220 km long coastal strip, just 180 km to the north of Cape Horn. In December 1992 it was designated as a WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance, due to it holding 42% of the global population of Hudsonian Godwits (Limosa haemastica) and 13.7% of the rufa subspecies of Red Knots (Calidris canutus). The area also holds significant numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis) and Patagonian-breeding species such as Rufous-chested Dotterel (Charadrius modestus), Two-banded Plover (Charadrius falklandicus), and the globally Near Threatened Magellanic Plover (Pluvianellus socialis).

But the reserve is perhaps best known as the wintering site for B95 (or “Moonbird”), the world’s most famous Red Knot that was originally banded near the city of Rio Grande in February 1995. In December 2012, B95 was named as “Embajador Natural de la ciudad de Río Grande” (Natural Ambassador of the city of Río Grande).

Recently, WHSRN partners were concerned to see a bill of law proposed to change the limits of the reserve. If approved, the law would split the reserve in three parts, allowing sand mining to be developed in the two intermediate areas. Sand mining is an important economic activity in the area, and essential to the local construction industry. However, a recent assessment conducted for the provincial Secretariat of Mining recommended mining should not occur in coastal areas, and proposed alternative areas inland. In fact, the city of Rio Grande is already suffering alarming coastal erosion as a result of historical sand mining activities. If passed, the bill of law would also set a worrying precedent in terms of modifying the limits of a protected area.



A sand-mining operation in action. Photo by Tabaré Barreto.


After concerns were expressed by a wide variety of local, national and international stakeholders, the Provincial Legislature sent the bill of law to the Natural Resources Commission (Commission No. 3), and sought technical input from the “Mesa Técnica para la gestión de la Reserva Costa Atlántica de Tierra del Fuego” (a technical working group for the management of the reserve) that was created following a good governance workshop facilitated by Diego Luna (WHSRN Executive Office) in December 2016. The working group strongly recommended maintaining the integrity of the reserve, and developing sand mines at inland locations (after the completion of environmental impact assessments). The group also highlighted the importance of developing an integrated coastal management plan for the province, and a coastal mitigation plan for those coastal areas where sand has previously been mined.

We’re pleased to be able to report that following the input from the technical working group and the multiple expressions of concern, the Provincial Legislature decided to withdraw the bill of law. Furthermore, the debate over the future of the protected area has helped raise awareness of its importance, and strengthened the technical working group as a good governance mechanism for the reserve.