Laguna Mar Chiquita is a huge, permanent, saline lagoon up to 4 meters deep, with brackish marshes at the mouths of the rivers entering the lake. Beginning in 1977, due to unusually wet and rainy years, the water level of the lagoon has increased above normal. Salt concentration has, in turn, decreased from the maximum normal level of 250grams/liter to just 80 g/l in 1977 and 28 g/l in 1987. The invertebrate Artemia salina decreased accordingly. Many mudflats used by shorebirds, and islands used by nesting gulls, were inundated.
Ecology & Conservation
Good censuses of shorebirds exist for the area, mostly due to the work of Manuel Nores of the Centro de Zoología Aplicada. Nores and Darío Yzurieta have conducted regular bird surveys in the area since 1973. The following numbers were reported in the "Directory of Neotropical Wetlands":
500,000 Wilson's Phalaropes
15,000 Lesser Yellowlegs
15,000 White-rumped Sandpipers
200 Stilt Sandpipers
Other maximum numbers according to Rodolfo Miatello are:
20,000 Golden Plover
1,200 Hudsonian Godwits
700 Pectoral Sandpipers
Austral species such as the Two Banded Plover nest here, and the Rufous-chested Dotterel spends the austral winter in the area (Bucher and Herrera 1981). The Collared Plover probably also nests there.
An additional 55 species of aquatic birds have been recorded in the lake (Bucher and Herrera 1981) with the Rio Segundo estuary as the richest, most diverse community. Flamingos are the most celebrated birds in the lake. At least 70,000 Chilean Flamingos have been censused and nest in the area and around 1,000 Andean Flamingos visit the lake during the winter months (Bucher, 1989). Black-necked Swans and Coscoroba Swans have been recorded for the lake, and also many species of ducks, three coots, and a population of 200,000 to 300,000 Brown-hooded Gulls.
Coypo (Myocastor coypu), a type of rodent, is common in the area and 200,000 are harvested annually from the wild population. Coypo is also raised and bred in captivity and around 20,000 are produced annually for their hides. The meat is consumed locally and commercially (Bronstein, pers. com.). The pejerrey (Basilichtys bonariensis), a fish, is an important resource now, and is harvested commercially. If the lake goes back to its normal salinity, this population will disappear (Bronstein, pers. com.). Most of the lake is devoid of vegetation, but there are marshes of Typha and Scirpus, and riverine thickets of Tamarix gallica, an introduced species (Scott and Carbonell, 1986).
About 3,000 people live right next to the lake, but the population of the entire basin is only about 10,000 (Bronstein, pers.com.). The northern part of the basin is used for milk production. In some areas the grasslands are burned to produce more palatable grasses for cattle. Trees of the genus Prosopis are exploited for wood to produce coal and posts. Small scale agriculture, olives and other crops are also found in the area. Tourism is not significant but could increase.
Laguna Mar Chiquita is a Provincial Reserve, created by a decree of the Cordoba province. An interpretation center exists in Miramar, displaying the main biological features of the area. The center also contains facilities for housing researchers. One ranger is responsible for the control of the area. He has a car but no boat, so his ability to control the entire area is reduced. Sometimes additional ranger support is provided from the headquarters in Cordoba city.
A particularity of the boundaries of the reserve is that they change legally with the fluctuations of water levels. Reserve status exists all around the lake and 1 km inland from the current shore.
The Rio Primero goes through Cordoba City (pop. 1 million) where pollutants enter through mostly untreated effluents. Along the Río Segundo, different industries exist that also pump effluents into the river without treatment. A similar situation occurs with the Río Dulce along the Tucumán province (Bucher y Herrera, 1981). Despite the lack of published information, it is likely that some degree of contamination exists in this closed basin. Insecticides for the control of mosquitoes are used regularly along the southern coast of the lake (Bucher y Herrera, 1981).
Recently, some exploration for the possible exploitation of lithium has been conducted in the area (Bucher, pers. com.). Potential threats from possible use of lake water during dry years and possible hydroelectric exploitation could also affect the lake in the future. Water could be diverted for irrigation during dry years, and plans exist for engineering works to divert water from the Segundo and Dulce Rivers.
Research and Management Activities
Management of the area has as its objective to establish a field station for monitoring, research, and conservation of shorebirds and wetlands. The field station organizes its own research and works to support the activities and needs of Cordoba province.
The main areas of action in the management of Mar Chiquita are:
Environmental Education: Provide technical assistance and if possible economic assistance to support the activities of the ranger in the area. Support to the regional museums. Support to ecotourism activities.
Research: Develop a permanent monitoring system in the site with census and banding. Develop research with university students and researchers from any country interested in doing work in the area.
Training: Organize periodic shorebird workshops.
Conservation: Support the local activities of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Areas, providing resources and equipment for management plans, lobbying, infrastructure, etc.
The Senators of the Province of Cordoba held a public meeting on March 6, 1992, at the interpretive center to discuss, in a participative forum, the problems of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources of the lake's watershed. The meeting brought together residents and authorities of the communities surrounding the lake and was so successful that it was decided to hold such meetings periodically, expanding to other subjects of interest to the community. The interest shown by the Cordoban legislators has been excellent and very positive, especially the local participation that they have allowed.
Photos to come....
Bucher, E.H., Population and Conservation Status of Chilean Flamingos in Mar Chiquita, Córdoba, Argentina. (submitted to Vida Silvestre Neotropical)
Bucher, E.H. y G. Herrera. 1981. Comunidades de aves acuáticas de la laguna de Mar Chiquita (Córdoba, Argentina) ECOSUR, Argentina, 8 (15); 91-120.
Scott, D.A. and M. Carbonell (Compilers) 1986. A Directory of Neotropical Wetlands. IUCN Cambridge and IWRB Slimbridge.